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La Forza del Destino
Washington National Opera
Zambello's staging of La Forza del Destino at Washington National Opera
© Scott Suchman/WNO 2014
Francesca Zambello's tenure as artistic director of Washington National Opera will likely generate many different reactions over the years, but boredom won't be one of them. The latest evidence came when she directed the company's salute to the Verdi bicentennial, a new take on La Forza del Destino (billed as "The Force of Destiny") that provided much to absorb and argue over. There was quite a debate-starter from the moment the performance began, on October 12 at the Kennedy Center, since the first notes were not those of the brilliant overture but those of Act I, which Zambello treated as a prologue. Only after the accidental shooting of the Marchese did the overture pop up, used to provide a soundtrack for the acted-out escapes of Alvaro and Leonora and, further, to suggest the eventful passage of time before the opera proper resumed. A crime against Verdi? Many a jury would no doubt agree, but the director's reordering of the score had a certain logic. (For many seasons in the 1950s and '60s, this arrangement was used at the Metropolitan Opera.)
Zambello's concept for the staging moved the action more or less to the present day and, with the collaboration of imaginative designer Peter J. Davison, placed it all in an eye-grabbing environment. Act I conjured up an insular, coldly elegant world in which the Marchese tried to keep his daughter from the clutches of her inferior suitor. The action then shifted to a crass urban setting, where light from neon signs advertising earthly pleasures illuminated a world of graffiti-flecked, corrugated metal walls. Table-top dancing and other silly business proved more distracting than atmospheric, and the appearance of religious folks in this milieu looked unlikely. (Costume designer Catherine Zuber put Guardiano and Melitone in fluttery variations on traditional clerical attire.) The headquarters for the monks — Zambello presented them more as a sect than as a Catholic order — were behind one of those metal walls, with piles of garbage outside; when the view opened up to the interior, solemn robed fellows went in for a little self-flagellation as they paraded. Such images, not to mention all the machine guns, grenades and whatnot for the Act III battles, had a strange way of fitting together in the end. And, enhanced by Mark McCullough's deftly judged lighting, nearly everything in the staging was executed with such style and conviction that it was easy to go with the flow. The vigor of the music-making made it even easier.
As Leonora, Adina Aaron proved to be a natural actress and a vivid vocalist. Once past the occasional slip of intonation or loss of firmness early in the evening, she sang with an appealingly warm tone and sculpted melodic arcs with great sensitivity. At her best, which included a poetic account of "Pace, pace," Aaron made Leonora remarkably real and affecting. As Alvaro, Giancarlo Monsalve unleashed a burly tenor. The sound wasn't pretty, but the fire in it could be quite effective, matching the singer's animated acting. A few hollow patches aside, Mark Delavan sang impressively as Carlo, adding a good deal of nuance to his beefy tone. Although Enrico Iori lacked the vocal weight to make Guardiano a commanding figure, there was admirable eloquence in his phrasing. Ketevan Kemoklidze had a spirited, bright-voiced romp as Preziosilla. Soloman Howard's rich bass made Alcade stand out among the minor roles. The chorus was in sturdy vocal form and seemed to relish jumping into the action scenes. The orchestra offered generally polished, warmly expressive playing for conductor Xian Zhang, who fashioned a bracing yet subtly flexible account of the score.
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