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VERDI: La Forza del Destino

spacer Stemme, Krasteva; Licitra, C. Álvarez, Miles; Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper, Mehta. Production: Pountney. 
C Major 708204 (Blu-ray) or 708108 (2 DVDs), 161 mins., subtitled


A butterfly lands on a wheel, which turns along with a cross and a pistol, which strikes the ground and discharges a bullet, which ricochets off a bedpost and into a man's chest, which disgorges blood across the screen. The projected sequence begins and recurs twice in director David Pountney and designer Richard Hudson's 2008 Vienna State Opera production of La Forza del Destino, the plot of which is launched by such a fluke. Pountney projects war footage, hangs corpses over the stage and peoples it with the maimed and their medics. He misses no chance to juxtapose crosses (often on bibles) with weapons (often pistols) and unites cross and weapon in the hilts of red swords. But what makes the most impact here is not the force of destiny or the horror of war or the unholy alliance of religion and violence. 

No, this will go down as the Forza with the dancing cowgirls and cowboys. The inn scene opens with the girls on their backs, long legs with red shorts and red boots in the air. Out from behind each pair of legs pops a cowboy in black hat, red-and-black fringe shirt and red chaps. White crosses mark the girls' boots, the boys' sleeves and the bibles they all hold. All wear black holsters and soon dance with bible in one hand and six-shooter in the other. For the pilgrims' chorus, the girls lie in the form of a cross and hold bibles aloft. They return in Act III to lasso the wounded, who dance the Tarantella with their nurses, and to cower and collapse in a Rataplan hit by an air raid. Even cowgirls get napalmed.  

Campy, busy and heavy-handed as the public scenes are, the private ones are sober and stark, and nothing screams "Texas." They focus on the principals, and as Nina Stemme is the only real thespian, they're visually less engaging. She sings Leonora with warmth and ample tone, plus explosive brilliance on top. Carlos Álvarez chills the heart with his dark baritone; if it's monochromatic, so is the obsessed Carlo. The late Salvatore Licitra's tenor is a bit bleaty in Act I but pleasant thereafter; his Alvaro is not coarse or overdone. Bass Alastair Miles, doubling as the two fathers in Leonora's life, is adequate as Il Marchese di Calatrava but lacks sonority and gravitas as Padre Guardiano. Baritone Tiziano Bracci sings a more personable than tetchy Melitone. Nadia Krasteva brings a fruity mezzo to Preziosilla but doesn't seem comfortable cavorting as queen of the cowgirls.

Zubin Mehta conducts soundly, without much fire. Orchestra and chorus are quite fine. Cuts are numerous, and Act III is reordered: the "Compagni, sos­tiamo" chorus and second Alvaro–Carlo duet are delayed and inserted before the Rataplan. This isn't a first, second or even third choice Forza, but some shelves might find room for Pountney's colorful, fun production. spacer 


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