dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Fate plays its hand in Verdi opera
Verdi's La forza del destino tells the story of a doomed love affair set against a time of war. Forbidden couple, Leonora and Alvaro, are planning their elopement when they are discovered by Leonora's father, the Marquis of Calatrava. Alvaro accidentally shoots and kills Calatrava and from that moment the two are hunted by Leonora's brother, Don Carlo, who has vowed to kill them both in revenge. Verdi sets this domestic drama against a much wider political drama of war, poverty and political turmoil.
In this Welsh National Opera touring production, directed by company artistic director David Pountney, the conflict is very much to the forefront with the grotesqueness of war receiving as much attention as the domestic drama.
With costumes designed by Marie-Jeanne Lecca, we see chorus members as soldiers, beggars and seminarians hidden behind masks, robed like blooded penitents or scrabbling in the dirt. The imagery is highly reminiscent of the Spanish painter Goya and his influence is also reflected in the programme, which features some of Goya's drawings.
The huge sets designed by Raimand Bauer enable spaces to be changed, reduced or enlarged with backdrops featuring giant crosses, huge portraits and firing ranges. The blood spilled by the dying Calatrava is also retained on the wall throughout the three-hour production – with characters returning to it again and again as a visible reminder of the original crime.
Within this violence is Leonora, a woman driven to extreme penitence by her guilt in the death of her father. Mary Elizabeth Williams captures the ambivalence of a character who is torn between love for Alvaro and love for her father and who then turns her back on the world in a desperate attempt at expiation.
Gwyn Hughes Jones' Alvaro is a man driven by his own guilt while Luis Cansino's Carlo is driven by a different motive – revenge. Donald Maxwell is the figure of peace, Fra Melitone, who helps Leonora while Justine Gringyte gives an excellent performance as the warmongering Preziosilla.
Welsh National Opera
Verdi's beautiful music is masterfully handled by the orchestra under the baton of WNO Conductor Laureate Carlo Rizzi. Despite the wonderful score, La forza del destino is performed less frequently than some of Verdi's less complex operas such as La Traviata and Nabucco and it's refreshing to see Welsh National Opera tackling its themes in full. The production succeeds in keeping the family drama to the fore while also ensuring the conflict is given its imaginative place in the work.
Performed at Birmingham Hippodrome, it forms part of the spring series which also features Mozart's Don Giovanni and Puccini's Tosca.