La forza del destino [concert performance of the original St Petersburg version, 1862]
Leonora Irina Godei
Don Alvaro Avgust Amonov
Don Carlo Vasily Gerello
Marquis of Calatrava Grigory Karassev
Preziosilla Ekaterina Semenchuk
Trabuco Nikolai Gassiev
Father Superior Mikhail Kit
Melitone Andrei Spekhov
Alcade Eduard Tsanga
Curra, maid Svetlana Volkova
Spanish surgeon Alexe Markov
Chorus & Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 25 May, 2006
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham
I wonder if the Kirov – apologies, the Mariinsky – is going for British citizenship? On this, the company’s first of four visits to the UK this year, they visited The Sage Gateshead for a four-concert residency and Symphony Hall, Birmingham for a five-day residency (during which the orchestra nipped off to Cardiff for a single Shostakovich concert while the opera chorus performed a cappella in Birmingham). Between Gateshead and Birmingham Gergiev left his St Petersburg forces to fly to New York; that’s when the Mariinsky (Kirov) Orchestra must have gone to Manchester for its single concert in Gianandrea Noseda’s Tchaikovsky cycle.
The company is back in late July for the ten-day “Shostakovich on Stage” season at the London Coliseum, returning the following month for two concerts at the Proms, and then back in November for the ‘Ring’ at Welsh National Opera and the final three concerts of the Barbican/Gergiev Shostakovich cycle
Here, on the third day of the Birmingham residency, we heard the original version of Verdi’s “La forza del destino”, which was written for St Petersburg in 1862. The operatic world now knows it in its 1869 revision, with its expanded overture, rearrangement of scenes in the third act, Italian setting and altered ending. Although the original version has been recorded before – John Mathieson’s BBC version has just been released on CD by Opera Rara, for example – it is quite right that Gergiev has re-established it at the Mariinsky as its ‘default’ version, and not only recorded it for CD (Philips) but also for DVD (Arthaus Musik), both emanating from Elijah Moshinsky’s late-90s’ production, although recorded at different times with slightly different casts.
It was that production that came to The Royal Opera in the summer of 2001, and – by common consent – was regarded as the best of a rather lacklustre set of Verdi centenary year performances. Ironically, that single Covent Garden performance was conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, so this concert performance in Birmingham was the first in the UK to be conducted by Gergiev.
It was worth the wait. More than on both the CD and DVD version of this particular work, Gergiev proved himself to be an urgent and dramatic Verdi conductor. Typically starting late, he brought the finale to a close on time and certainly carried the audience with him in the urgent twists and turns of the plot, even without surtitles. While Irina Godei remained rather cool and controlled as Leonora, it was left to the others to physically animate their parts. Inded Vasily Gerello’s combative Carlo and Avgust Amonov’s anguished Alvaro left scores behind (only in the final scene did Amonov glance over at Gerello’s score) and performed as if in the production. Their great duets in Acts Three and Four were fearsomely dramatic, each raising the other’s games.
Ekaterina Semenchuk’s Preziosilla also left score and, in her case, music stand behind as she moved and turned to wow the chorus, raised high above the orchestral forces, in both the tavern scene (where she urges Spanish recruits to fight on Italian soil in Act Two) and the encampment scene of Act Three (dropped wholesale into the story from Schiller’s “Wallenstein’s Camp”. Here she raised the roof with her Rataplan to urge her compatriots back to the war effort after Brother Melitone’s attempts at sermonising. Melitone – Verdi’s early prototype of the kind of role which would result in his Falstaff (indeed the first singer of Melitone later created the role of Falstaff) – returns again, cantankerous as ever at the start of Act Four to add some comic relief in a story that may beggar belief but, when given as persuasive performance as this, can ratchet up the tension to almost intolerable levels.
Certainly, in Act Three the original version of the opera seems to be much more successful that the revision. Here the Wallenstein’s Camp interpolation breaks up the burgeoning dispute between the disguised Alvaro and Carlo, making it more believable that Alvaro could have recovered from his wound before the great denouement of the Act, when their true identities are revealed. In the revision, the timescale is less believable. I also prefer the sheer drama of Alvaro throwing himself off the top of a cliff after Carlo has murdered his own sister Leonore, however abrupt an ending, given the length of the opera in total. So there was no suggestion that this version is ‘second best’.
Then there were the amusing visual aspects of the concert performance: the chorus’s inability to stand as one, rather imitating a ‘Mexican wave’ led by the men on the far left, was a recurrent example; or Carlo and Alvaro having an unscripted rapprochement as the former opened a bottle of water for the latter!
All in all, a very memorable evening.