by Andrea Gaini
Wales Millennium Centre, 02/02/2018
What is destiny? Is there a way to make things go right? Is God’s forgiveness all we need to live a peaceful life?
These are some of the questions Giuseppe Verdi’s La Forza del Destino sparked in my head after yesterday’s performance at the Wales Millennium Centre. A night delighted by the presence of his Highness the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles in the audience, to assist to another memorable production of the Welsh National Opera.
The opera follows the controversial love story of Leonora Vargas and Don Alvaro, and her brother Don Carlo who’s constantly looking for revenge over his father’s death, caused by the spark of Alvaro’s pistol as he was throwing it to the ground in symbol of his resignation. After several episodes and encounters, all rhythmed by the perpetual presence of the humanisation of Destiny (a maid, a gypsy and a witch in a black dress), the story all comes together in one final confrontation; Don Alvaro, unwillingly forced by the struggle for survival, kills Don Carlo who, in his last grasp of life, shoots dead his sister Leonora.
The finale, when Alvaro is guided to God’s forgiveness by Padre Guardiano, is a very powerful moment which leaves a lot to reflect on. God’s forgiveness is high and potent, but is the life Alvaro is left to worth living? Verdi’s very first version, in fact, presented a different ending where Alvaro decided to jump off a cliff and commit suicide, revealing the author’s objective opinion on the question. This new ending, however, leaves it up to the audience to understand and judge for themselves whether his life is now insignificant and miserable or if it’s still possible to find hope in God’s forgiving words.
The production is beautiful and inspiring, giving importance to those significant moments of the story that highlight the main themes guiding the opera. The father’s blood on the wall, constantly on the scene from his death onwards, for instance, made it clear that his homicide was the cause of all the characters’ pain.
From the static black, white and grey colours which set the tone of the peace theme in the first two acts to the energic and brilliant colours of the second two acts representing the war period. The set, designed by Raimund Bauer, is dynamic and functional which helps maintain a beautiful flow of the scenes and emphasise the singers’ presence. My only reservation is of the projections at the beginning of the performance, during the overture, which, to me, did not feel either essential or particularly fitting with the rest of the scene.
To round up the work of the production team, there was a cast of impeccable singers which gave life to the Verdi’s world and expressed completely the beauty of an opera which has often had difficulties to be considered as a masterpiece, mostly because of its complexity.
Mary Elizabeth Williams as Leonora was the absolute star. Her filato in her top notes was beautifully performed and gave me goosebumps multiple times. Her voice did sound slightly squeaky and not always well-rounded in those strong and powerful high notes, nevertheless, I found it incredibly fitting for the interpretation, making it a trait of her character more than an imperfection.
While not giving any answers, this production has set out very well the questions incorporated in this opera, reshaping them to be applicable in the modern debate between religious faith and atheism: is life simply a succession of events such as in the case of the death of Leonora and Carlo’s father, or is it by asking for God’s mercy that we can finally find peace, as Don Alvaro?