Sunday, March 17, 2024

Verdi's La Forza del Destino at the MET



The last time the Metropolitan Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi's titanic opera La Forza del Destino it was the 1970's: a decade that saw some of the reigning voices of the MET take their last bows (Leontyne Price, Robert Merrill, Franco Corelli) and give way to the new kids on the block (Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Renata Scotto).  It was the decade when voices ruled, and productions were carefully overseen by the MET's general director Joseph Volpe, an administrator who believed in spending millions on a new staging because it was his belief that a production must last at least twenty years. In those days productions were lush, detailed and faithful to the libretto. The last time I saw Forza at the MET Leontyne Price and the young Domingo sang a memorable performance, dressed in the cloak-and-dagger finery of eighteenth century Spain.

Peter Gelb is no Joseph Volpe. Since he assumed the general management of the MET he has tried to bring the institution into the 21st century, meaning, replacing the old tried-and-true stagings with "Regietheatre" productions (which some call Eurotrash) where the voices become secondary and the director is the star of the show. 2024 was the year for Verdi's grim melodrama to get the Gelb treatment. There were rumors that he sought out Calixto Bieito, the iconoclastic Catalan director, but Mr. Bieito's plans for the opera, coupled with his track record of avant-garde productions around the world, proved to be too much for the MET's board of directors. Finally, Gelb settled on Mariusz Treliński, the artistic director of the Grand Theatre of Warsaw. 


Mr. Treliński gives us a modern staging devoid of any certain locale. It could be Eastern Europe or even a banana republic. Given the fact that the last act takes place in a decrepit New York subway station gives us the clue that we are in The United States of America after the killing of an important official has thrown the country into the chaos of a second Civil War.  All references to Spain in the Francesco Maria Piave libretto have been eliminated. For instance, in the recitative to the poignant "Oh, tu che in seno agli angeli" Don Alvaro sings "Seviglia..." reminiscent of his homeland. The English translation of this reads "happier days."  This translation change of the libretto's original words is not something new. During the MET run of the "Las Vegas Rigoletto," the libretto's words were updated into a "Rat-Pack" argot worthy of Frank Sinatra and Joey Bishop.

If the production is dark and grim, gray and steely, the singing was luminous from the superb cast headed by superstar Lise Davidsen who is on a roll these days. As the NY times wrote she has "become the rare singer you want to hear in everything." Perhaps her voice does not have the inherent sweetness of a Price or a Renata Tebaldi (and the jury is still out whether or not Ms. Davidsen is a true Verdi soprano), but with the MET absence of Anna Netrebko, Ms. Davidsen is the best we've got, and that is a great thing.  I'm looking forward to the day when Ms. Davidsen gleefully faces her father Wotan and greets him with a fiery "Hojotoho."  It's coming!

The rest of the cast was very strong, especially Igor Golovatenko as Don Carlo di Vargas.  He has a wonderfully pleasant baritone with a clear attractive top. Tenor Brian Jagde as Leonora's beloved Don Alvaro, has a stentorian dark voice with ringing high notes. The roles of the Marquis of Calatrava and Padre Guardiano were played by bass Soloman Howard: a strange choice, but one that almost worked except when the ghost of the dead Marquis kept popping up at melodramatic instances (way too many times!). Fra Melitone was sung with dour perfection by Patrick Carfizzi. He was the rudest religious friar I've ever seen. Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin led an exciting reading of this memorable score, and the orchestra sounded strong and together.

I found the performance last night powerfully cathartic, like a Greek play that dares to show unbelievable tragedy and somehow purifies the audience. Perhaps a curious output from such a melodramatic piece, but it worked, strangely enough, in that respect. The production had something to do with it, but in the final analysis it is Verdi's music that has the power to elevate your soul into a different realm; and in that respect, having one of the world's greatest soprano stop the show with the incredible "Pace, Pace mio Dio" doesn't hurt either.