Review: Sizzling intensity of mystifying Verdi masterpiece

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THIS colourful production of one of Verdi’s longest operas has just about everything – a demented gypsy fortune teller, a family vendetta, religious fanaticism and the broad sweep of history.

Svetla Vassileva as Leonora, photo by Prudence Upton
Svetla Vassileva as Leonora, photo by Prudence Upton
Indeed, “The Force of Destiny” almost suffers from a surfeit of theatricality, with the accidental death of the vacillating heroine’s father in the first minute becoming the motive for full-blown revenge and the morbid obsession with religious faith providing a good pretext for spectacle without giving us insights into the psychology of the characters.

I wondered if the excessive religiosity of the piece meant that Verdi was going through some kind of spiritual crisis when he wrote it, but it seems not.

There are no classical unities in this plot, which in a bewildering fashion takes us from Spain into Italy and into the War of the Austrian Succession over several years.

As if that weren’t bewildering enough, the three main characters – Leonora, her half-Inca lover Alvaro, and her single-minded brother Carlo – all take on disguises, sometimes more than once. Both the male antagonists appear to die, only to return in the next scene. No wonder this work has baffled audiences for a long time.

Balancing this out, the libretto by Francesco Maria Piave is full of sardonic humour, drawing laughter from the audience, and pleasing cameo roles such as that of the recalcitrant monk Fra Melitone, played with humour by Warwick Fyfe.

Director Tama Matheson addresses the weaknesses of the plot by enlarging some of its features and Mark Thompson’s set is dominated by a gigantic skull that hints at the Spanish obsession with death and dying.

Matheson’s major directorial device sees the gypsy Preziosilla (Rinat Shaham, who played Carmen on the harbour) turned into the personification of the “Force of Destiny” itself, as she throws her tarot cards around the stage, works the army to a murderous frenzy in the “Rataplan” choral piece, and hovers menacingly over even the most intimate moments. The message is clear – death and destruction await everyone.

To my mind, Matheson overplayed her hand in this respect. It is perfectly true that this is a pessimistic work, but to allow this character to intrude on the dramatic action so much weighed the action down unnecessarily.

The music is white hot – OA seems in its element with Verdi. As Leonora, Svetla Vassileva is strong and passionate, yet her Act I aria “Madre, Madre…” is refined and delicate. Jonathan Summers as the relentlessly revengeful Carlo is simply magnificent in his ACT II aria “Urna fatale…” As the ill-fated Alvaro, Riccardo Massi is especially powerful in the final act, where, he is returned to the uncompromising ending first conceived by Verdi, delivered in this production with a disturbing touch of blasphemy.

In this end, this mystifying masterpiece, delivered with sizzling intensity, makes for an evening to remember.

    Jonathan Summers as Don Carlos di Vargas, Rinat Shaham as Preziosilla & Riccardo Massi as Don Alvaro, photo by Prudence Upton
Jonathan Summers as Don Carlos di Vargas, Rinat Shaham as Preziosilla & Riccardo Massi as Don Alvaro. Photo by Prudence Upton

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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