Verdi’s epic tale of revenge provides the perfect backdrop for some thrilling singing at Covent Garden.
Premiered in Saint Petersburg in 1862, Verdi’s epic, some might argue sprawling, opera about fate, war and revenge, La forza del destino (The Power of Fate), was deemed too pessimistic for Italian tastes of the day. As was often the case, Verdi took to revising his work, in the process making it more palatable for contemporary audiences. In the original version, all three protagonists are dead by the final curtain, including the hero, Alvaro, who takes his own life. The 1869 version lets him live, and there are some other changes as well, including an overture that replaces a cursory prelude, and a different order to the numbers in the third act.
Although the 1869 version is the one used here, there is much to be said for the original. Scottish Opera made a strong case for the Saint Petersburg edition in the mid 90s, in a striking production by Elijah Moshinsky. Having said that, The Royal Opera’s revival of Christof Loy’s stylish and engaging staging was musically strong, and dramatically convincing.
Loy’s main achievement is making the creaky and often implausible story credible. The accidental firing of a pistol, which fatally wounds the Marquis of Calatrava, father to Carlo and Leonora, sets the ball rolling for a story driven by revenge, and unrequited love. Within Christian Schmidt’s elegant single set, which adapts effortlessly to each location, Loy’s focus on the horrors of war, and the dire consequences of an individual being blindly driven by a lust for revenge, packs an enormous theatrical punch. This is one of his most disciplined operatic stagings, and came across even stronger than when new in 2019.
Back then, we had one of the starriest Verdi casts the company had assembled in a long while – Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Netrebko, Ludovic Tézier, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Alessandro Corbelli. All these roles were recast for this revival and, on the whole, were spectacularly well sung. American tenor Brian Jagde, hot on the heels of his sleek Don Carlo in July, returned as a full-throated Alvaro. His top notes were thrilling, his phrasing elegant, although at times it wouldn’t have hurt to dial the volume down a notch or two.
“…The Royal Opera’s revival of Christof Loy’s stylish and engaging staging was musically strong…”
Maybe if he’d had a less generously voiced partner than Sondra Radvanovsky, there’d have been more light and shade, but as it was they matched each other decibel for decibel. That’s not to say that either singer was anything but musical, but both possess voices trained to fill the cavernous spaces of the Met, New York. In fairness, Radvanovsky did produce plenty of ravishing pianissimo singing as well, as the evening progressed, most notably in a spine-tingling ‘Pace, Pace’. This was her role debut as Leonora, and was yet another fine achievement to add to her growing roster of Verdi roles.
The other notable role debut of the evening was the exemplary Canadian baritone, Etienne Dupuis as Carlo, himself a relatively late stand-in for the originally announced singer. This fine baritone delivered the most stylish, idiomatic Verdi singing of the evening, and despite some stiff competition, took the performance’s vocal honours. Evenly produced tone across a formidable range, allied to a rock-solid technique and mesmerising stage presence, Dupuis was able to make Verdi’s vocal lines soar. He made a huge impression when I saw him as Rodrigue, singing in his native tongue in the original French five act version of Don Carlos at The Met, New York in 2022, so his winning performance as Carlo should have come as no surprise. Let’s hope he returns soon.
The rest of the cast was without a weak link. Evgeny Stavinsky was a grave Padre Guardiano, Rodion Pogossov a vivid Melitone, while Vasilisa Berzhanskaya brought Preziosilla to life, with her energetic stage presence and warm mezzo. The Chorus produced plenty of rafter rattling sound and threw themselves gamely into the wildly choreographed song and dance routines.
Despite some of his speeds being on the stately side, the experienced Verdian, Mark Elder, led an idiomatic, lovingly moulded account of the work. He drew fabulous playing from all sections of the orchestra, setting the seal on an evening of musical and dramatic excellence.
• Details of future performances can be found here.