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  • S. Lachterman

The Dark Vision of the Met’s 2024 Treliński Production of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino

Review S. Lachterman

La Forza del Destino

Music, Giuseppi Verdi

Libretto, Francesco Maria Piave

Conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Production, Mariusz Treliński

Donna Leonora, Lise Davidsen

Preziosilla, Judit Kutasi

Don Alvaro, Brian Jagde

Don Carlo di Vargas, Igor Golovatenko

Fra Melitone, Patrick Carfizzi

Marquis of Calatrava / Padre Guardiano, Soloman Howard

Lise Davidsen
Lise Davidsen as Leonora in Verdi's La Forza del Destino

Mariusz Treliński has crafted an unrelentingly grim vision of Verdi/Piave’s already bleak masterpiece in spite of Piave’s forced ungainly narrative. A “grudge” that spans years seems all too machinated and premeditated; tragic endings abound. Mr. Treliński has updated the setting from eighteenth-century Spain and Italy at the outset of the War of the Austrian Succession to the realm of a nameless twentieth-century military regime at the onset of an (all too familiar?) apocalyptic struggle in Europe.

Verdi’s Marquis, father of Leonora, a bass-baritone role, is on stage for only minutes before his accidental death. As is frequently the case, the role of Padre Guardiano is assumed by the same singer to supplement the abbreviated role. However, in Treliński’s hands, the character of Leonora’s father is made to morph into that of the Father Superior. The two are seen as doppelgangers. The Marquis is pictured as a corrupt and violent strongman who most likely has physically and sexually abused Leonora. As the plot progresses and Leonora encounters her father anew as Padre Guardiano, we see a minimal costume makeover of the Marquis’s stark white uniform. Leonora doesn’t find succor with the cleric as he slaps her, and begins to disrobe when they are alone. Her hermitage is little more than imprisonment; Fra Melitone, usually played as a comic role, is baleful and heartless. It is only when war has ravaged the monastery that we see yet another incarnation of Father Superior: a blind, fragile, and humbled man -- a mere withered presence. In the final scenes when Leonora and Alvaro all too briefly reunite, the Father is transformed to the ghost of the Marquis (in white, sporting his fatal bloodied wound), piously commenting on his daughter’s fate, in the final trio.

The traversal of this character’s transformation seems suggestive of Mozart’s Commendatore in Don Giovanni. His daughter’s honor violated; he dies in a duel with the seducer. However, this father returns as the supernatural ghostly avenger, the moral counterpoise to the serial rapist.

A second allusion to Mozart is realized in Act II in the the character of Preziosilla, the discomfiting fortune teller. She is donned with a laced black tiara and positioned in relief against a full moon while extolling war and retribution -- a clear trope for the usual characterization of the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute.

The Marquis’s transformation from martinet to corrupt cleric, then to pious Padre, and finally to ghostly agent of viaticum is undoubtedly the production’s most ingeniously crafted stroke, albeit a bit thickly applied. Attention becomes too easily drawn away from the star-crossed lovers' miserable lives. Such a complex transformation also denies the singer/actor a uniform character to develop.

La Forza, uncut, is a very long opera, and the plot contrivances alone are not especially winning. However, Verdi’s great achievement is the relentlessly dominanting tension balanced with moments of great lyricism borne of suffering. The music amply pulls the plot fragmentation together and quickens the pace.

The opera sports a small cast. We were fortunate today to have a masterful array. Lise Davidsen was radiant and devastating in conveying her anguish. The Father “transformer” role was sung by Soloman Howard, a striking presence with a mighty and resonant voice to match. He shined in his evolution from the cruel despotic Marquis, sinister cleric, febrile father, to the final Commendatore ghost.

Brian Jagde, a bright and lustrous tenor, breezed through the technical difficulties of Don Alvaro’s role. Russian baritone Igor Golovatenko was a notable Don Carlo and provided the unremitting acrimony that fuels the suffering lovers’ tragic destiny.

It seems unfair to wait over three hours to hear the most ethereal aria, Pace, pace, mio Dio, Leonora’s embittered lament against her fate. However, it was worth the wait for Ms. Davidsen's rendition. Her lament clearly summoned forbearance -- not sentimentality or tenuousness. There is a tearful delicacy to many classic renditions (think Callas, for example), but for Ms. Davidsen it is clear that Leonora is not broken, but a bitter survivor.

In Act II, the hushed prayer La vergine degli angeli is a magical moment for the Met chorus and Leonora. Verdi uses the simplest melodies and harmonic underpinnings that are both majestic and heart-rending. Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin understood the score’s oscillations between tension and heartbreak; the musicians seem to love his TLC and commitment to the score and this dark vision in Verdi.


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