Verdi - La Forza del Destino

La Monnaie, Sunday June 8 2008

Conductor: Kazushi Ono. Production: Dirk Tanghe. Sets & Costumes: Richard Hudson. Il marchese di Calatrava: Alessandro Guerzoni. Donna Leonora di Vargas: Eva-Maria Westbroek. Don Carlo di Vargas: Vassily Gerello. Don Alvaro: Zoran Todorovich. Preziosilla: Marianne Cornetti. Padre Guardiano: Carlo Colombara. Fra Melitone: José van Dam.

What the Fach?

"For some time now La Forza has been my partner, my lover, my mistress, my girlfriend, my hope, my consolation, my angel. She is also the sister of my sorrows, of my bottomless solitude, of my blackest and most destructive depressions, of my melancholy (that damned melancholy that exhausts me so), of my millions of existential questions, who was I, who am I, what did I want yesterday, what do I want today..."

There are three pages of this stuff in the programme, leading me to wonder if stage director Dirk Tanghe spent all his energy on writing it and so had none left for his production, which was remarkably un-memorable, stand-and-deliver stuff in sets (grey flats smeared with black, with plain rectangular openings for doors, giving way, during wartime, to a clearing with all the trees sawn down to stumps) and costumes (they were very good: clearly inspired by Spanish painting, in plain plums, mustards, tans and black reminiscent of Zurbarán saints) that might have been used for any work taking place in the renaissance. Less than a week on and I'm already having trouble recalling it.

On paper, the cast looked highly promising, but in the end, of the main characters, only Preziosilla and the Padre had the right kinds of Verdian voices for their parts, the three principals each, in their separate ways, leaving something to be desired, however marvellous Eva-Maria Westbroek's voice may be in Wagner or Shostakovich.

A friend of mine - a critic - saw the show a couple of days before I did, and sent me a very brief account of the singing. I'll reproduce what he wrote, and add my own comments.

"Westbroek: marvellous stage presence, glorious sound but not good at floating pp. You suddenly realise how important top notes are in Verdi compared to Wagner." Exactly my thoughts, right down to the very words "floating pianissimi," which were in my mind (with regard to her not being able to do it) while I listened: reined in, her top notes sounded very uncomfortable and I guess she'd have sounded better belting them out in Die Walküre.

"Todorovich: good middle, genuine tenor metal, but mechanical phrasing; top As and above systematically off the radar screen." Yes, his upper middle in particular was very good, but overall in Verdi I hope for a more seductive timbre from the tenor and, yes, all of his top notes - all of them - were so flat that even my elderly neighbour, when she was awake, noticed.

"Gerello: out for the count. Strictly no idea of Verdian line. Never has had. Should stick to Russian." That seems a bit harsh to me. But I certainly wouldn't have recognised Gerello's now congested timbre, compared to the bright sound he produced as Napoleon in War & Peace at the Bastille.

"Cornetti: big blowsy mezzo, fine really." Quite. She threw herself into it with gusto. But I did wonder how she would get on in a more taxing role.

"Van Dam: really should stop. It's not catastrophic but others could do it better." It's an old man's voice now, but I suppose in a part like this that isn't a great problem.

"Ono's conducting simply fantastic. Worth it just for that." So all the reviewers seem to agree. To me, the orchestra wasn't at its best on Sunday afternoon, though the brass chorale was lovely. Too many matje herrings at lunch?

He forgot to mention bass Carlo Colombara, the Verdian voice of the show, really.

Well, not a catastrophic afternoon, and I was glad to get another chance to hear Westbroek, but let's hope next time it's in another repertoire.

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