Verdi: La Forza del Destino
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Rounding off the Verdi centennial year in dramatic style Martin Kusej s thrilling contemporary interpretation of Verdi s late-period opera, La Forza Del Destino, proved the perfect vehicle for the Bavarian State Opera s dream-team of Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros. The imposing sets references to terrorism and the implosion of modern civilization bring the opera s inherent drama to a breathtaking pinnacle.
1. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Opening credits and Sinfonia
2. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act I; Buona notte, mia figlia
3. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act I; Temea restasse qui fino a domani! ... Me, pellegrina ed orfana
4. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act I; M'aiuti, signorina
5. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act I; È tardi
6. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act II; Holà, holà, holà!
7. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act II; La cena è pronta ... Al suon del tamburo
8. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act II; Padre Eterno, Signor, pietà di noi
9. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act II; Viva la buon compagnia! ... Son Pereda, son ricco d'onore
10. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act II; Son giunta, grazie, o Dio!
11. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act II; Chi siete?
12. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act II; Chi mi cerca?
13. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act II; È fermo il voto?
14. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act II; Il santo nome di Dio Signore ... La Vergine degli angeli
15. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act III; Attenti al gioco, attenti
16. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act III; La vita è inferno all'infelice! ... O tu che in seno
17. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act III; Al tradimento!
18. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act III; Piano ... qui posi ... Approntisi il suo letto
19. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act III; Morir! Tremenda cosa!
20. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act III; Lorché pifferi e tamburi
21. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act III; Nella guerra è la follia
22. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act III; Toh, toh! Poffare il mondo!
23. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act III; Lasciatelo ch'ei vada ... Rataplan
24. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act III; Nè gustare m'è dato un'ora di quiete
25. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act IV; Fate la carità
26. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act IV; Auf! Pazienza non v'ha che basti!
27. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act IV; Siete il portiere?
28. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act IV; Pace, pace, mio Dio!
29. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Act IV; Io muoio! Confessione!
30. Verdi: La Forza del Destino; Bows and closing credits
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The two versions I will be reviewing are: (1) the St. Petersburg version conducted by Valery Gergiev; and (2) the recent Jonas Kauffman Blu-ray. The reviews will follow one after the other.
1. REVIEW OF GERGIEV VERSION.
INTENDED TITLE OF REVIEW: 'Sound out of sync with video, and not even consistent'
INTENDED RATING: Two stars.
This review refers to the original 1862 St. Petersburg version of Forza, conducted by Valery Gergiev. It was a great production from the Mariinsky Theater, with excellent singers and traditional costumes, sets, everything as close to 1862 as reasonably possible. And it is of the original version which is rarely heard, and has several differences immediately apparent from the better known later version.
The 1862 version has some noticeable differences from the far-better-known standard version of 1867. (Spoiler alert! Skip this paragraph if you don't want spoilers :) First of all the overture is much shorter and has some different figurations of accompaniment, easily noticeable. Some of the choruses are also a little different, in fact they are more DIFFICULT in this than the later version. Apparently Verdi simplified them. Also there is a scene added, or rather, moved. It is after the Rataplan chorus, so it is either the new end of Act III, or the new beginning of Act IV. Don Carlo meets Don Alvaro in the hotel lobby and challenges him to a duel, and they fight there, not out by Leonora's cave. And, most surprisingly, Alvaro jumps off a cliff and kills himself at the end rather than kneeling and being forgiven by the angel. Frankly I think the original ending far better matches the tone of the rest of this major dime-store piece of pulp fiction. But apparently, Verdi heard too many complaints from weak souls who wanted a happier ending :)
End of spoilers!
In any case it was a production that 'shoulda' been captured competently on video, but alas, it wasn't. And I know it is fixable, because even a poor, dumb guy like me has ALMOST enough audio equipment and gadgets to completely fix it in my own den. But the video companies and remasterers are either too lazy or too ignorant to bother (and I tried to word that as charitably as possible).
Here is the problem. The sound is badly out of synch with the video. MANY classical DVDs have this problem, but at least most of them are at least consistent. So if you have an audio delay box, which I finally went and invested $240 and bought one, and you determine a video is, say, 30 milliseconds out of synch, you just set the box for 30 and then it plays correctly from beginning to end.
This one, however, is a different story. It drifts around the board, so you have to sit there and correct it periodically by remote.
So here are my rough notes from the first pass, which will have to be fine tuned on several viewings. Tracks 1-30, zero or negligible delay (I guess I should be thankful). Tracks 31-47, about 40 millisecond delay. Track 48, increases to about 50 milliseconds. Track 49 to end, return to 40 millisecond.
40 milliseconds refers to 40/1000 or 4/100 of a second, which doesn't sound like much, but consider one second is a huge amount of time in this context. It has led other reviewers to conclude the singers are lip-synching to a pre-recorded soundtrack. But if you can line up the video and audio with a delay box, you will see this is definitely not the case.
Now lest you think this a fault of my system ... I have many dozens of DVD that play correctly, without correction; and the fault here is guaranteed recreatable every time; and other reviewers have mentioned the problem, although sometimes not knowing exactly what it is.
Shame on Kultur for releasing it this way, and double-shame on Arthaus for re-releasing it with a fancier cover design, without fixing the content which was being complained about many years ago!
2. REVIEW OF KAUFMANN VERSION.
INTENDED TITLE OF REVIEW: 'Cheap for a reason, sorry I wasted money on it'
INTENDED RATING: One star.
I really like Jonas Kaufmann. In fact, I consider him the only modern-day tenor who could compete during the Golden Era of the 1940's up thru maybe the 1960's.
But Kaufmann or no Kaufmann, this production can't be redeemed. I gave it more than a fair shot. The setting is updated to perhaps the 1960's. I don't mind an updating, if it makes some sense (at least a little). This doesn't make any whatsoever. The 1960's was not the era of honor killings, in Western Europe anyway. Nor was it the era of soldiers of making pious prayers in public, or wishing well to passing pilgrims, or girls rushing off to a monastery. It doesn't make sense that Leonora's brother ages 10 or 15 years between Acts 1 and 2. And it doesn't make sense that Leonora's father, who is killed on-stage (very good stage-craft on that, I admit) is obviously the same person as Father Guardino. I can see some doubling of comprimario roles in el-cheapo productions, but this is not that. I don't believe the Bavarian State Opera was short on money that particular evening and had to make do. No, It must be a new plot point, and do you know what? I HAVE NO INTEREST IN KNOWING. I wanted an opera by Verdi, and this ain't it!
It is well-known that Verdi was unhappy with people tampering with his operas and changing the setting, etc. Look at the history of Ballo in Maschera if you need a concrete example. Was he happy with moving it back and forth between Boston and Sweden? Did he say, "Of course, whatever you want"? No, he was very unhappy with it. And I think we ought to respect his intentions in story line as well as in his harmony and orchestrations etc.
So I made it up to the entry into the suburban, mahogany-lined monastery, then I decided I had better things to do with my evening. It is insulting they would (A) create this crap and then (B) sell this crap. I suppose I could donate it to the library, but that would tend to continue hurting opera in the future. I would rather throw it in the garbage where it belongs, and preferably have my money back. Suing them for fraud would also be a nice extra touch.
Respectfully* submitted ...
*(the only part of this review that is not entirely accurate)
Having grown up on traditional productions from the 1960's, I find this staging odd and it takes getting used to. That said, Harteros as Leonora is very effective. Her voice in this performance hall sounds smaller that her predecessors in bygone eras, but she colors her phrases beautifully and has enough power when needed. "La Vergine degli angeli," perhaps the most beautiful music Verdi wrote for soprano, was handled very well as she soars above the muted chorus with luscious soft but bright tones. Again the staging is odd with the chorus looking right at her and supposedly not knowing she is female makes the drama of the story out of place. Her "Pace, pace," is equally effective.
Kaufman and Tezier are well matched in their duets. Each as a big moment aria which are well balanced and presented with appropriate drama. My one reservation is in the final duet in Act IV, "Invano Alvaro." Kaufman over-sings the high B-flats at the climax of the 15 duet causing him to lose focus and projection. His voice, though powerful, is not a full robusto tenore, but it is a full spinto tenore.
Bass-baritone Vitali KowaJow is an effective Padre Guardiano.
Conductor Asher Fisch generally had a good reading of the score and uses some appropriate give and take for the singers when dealing with staging issues. Occasionally, he gets bogged down, but it seams related to the blocking and the sets. If you can get used to the unusual non-specified "some time in the 2oth century" setting, this is an overall good production.