LABELS: Sony Classical
ALBUM TITLE: Verdi
WORKS: La forza del destin
PERFORMER: Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Harteros, Ludovic Tézier, Nadia Krasteva, Renato Girolami, Heike Grötzinger, Christian Rieger, Francesco Petrozzi, Rafał Pawnuk, Witalij Kowalkow; Bavarian State Orchestra; Choir of the Bavarian State Opera/Asher Fisch; dir. Martin Kušej (Munich, 2014)
CATALOGUE NO: 88875160649
So precisely argued is the melancholy and agitation of the overture to La forza del destino that the opera itself can seem almost slovenly in its sequence of coincidences and reversals. Verdi’s tragedy follows three characters in search of an unhappy ending. The accidental murder of the Marchese di Calatrava by his daughter’s mixed-race lover, Don Alvaro, merely sounds the starting pistol for a slow-motion chase-sequence across war-torn Spain. In the final scene, it is another jibe about race that provokes a repentant Alvaro to violence, triggering the deaths of both Calatrava children, Donna Leonora and her vengeful brother Don Carlo di Vargas.
Martin Kušej’s 2013 Bayerische Staatsoper production plays out in a broadly contemporary, abstract setting. Cleanly conducted by Asher Fisch, with superb strings and brass, and outstandingly beautiful work from the Bavarian State Orchestra’s uncredited principal clarinet, the performance boasts an impeccably balanced quartet of leads: Anja Harteros (Leonora), Jonas Kaufmann (Alvaro), Ludovic Tézier (Vargas), and Vitalij Kowaljow (Calatrava/Padre Guardino). Kušej’s staging of a tense family dinner during the overture, with a small boy as the young Vargas, a crucifix on the table, and Fra Mellitone (Renato Girolami) helping himself to more wine, establishes themes that continue throughout.
The Act IV orgy is predictable. The formation of the chorus into neat lines of corpses, as though in a temporary mortuary, is not. With the exception of Nadia Krasteva’s gamely played but crudely barked Preziosilla (listening to her ‘Rataplan’ gave me a sore throat), it is very well sung. Kaufmann’s heroic snarl and Harteros’s plangent gleam are thrilling. But Kowaljow’s beautifully understated doubling (as father and Father) and Tézier’s gradual unravelling from a sensational ‘Urna fatale’ to the exhausted fury of his final confrontation with Alvaro, are even more impressive. Thomas Grimm’s video direction captures every nuance.