It happens quite often that Giuseppe Verdi’s 1862 opera La Forza del Destino is criticized for its implausible and weak plot. The focus is the love between Donna Leonora, the daughter of a wealthy family, and Don Alvaro, a stranger. And, as always, there is a father which disapproves of their relationship. In Forza del Destino (which translates as “The Power of Destiny”), however, there are a series of unfortunate events happening around the main characters: Leonora’s lover accidentally killing her father, her brother who swears revenge and all the characters meeting again multiple times in different places until finally Don Carlo (Leonora’s brother) gets to kill his sister and gets killed by Alvaro. Telling this story in a plausible way and finding explanations for these unfortunate coincidences is a challenge in which many directors have failed. The notoriously difficult piece, however, has found its best interpreter in director Andreas Homoki. He moves the focus of the piece away from just the family drama and creates a microcosm, where destiny reigns over the life of every character. A decisive step is that he turns various side figures (Preziosilla, Fra Melitone and Trabucco) into personifications of the omnipresent destiny. And so it’s not a saving measure, when all of the sudden the gypsy Preziosilla turns into Leonora’s servant, who opens the door, to make the disastrous meeting between Alvaro and Leonora’s father happen. Together with the visibly (Costumes: Mechthil Seipel) as well as vocally (Rehearsed by Janko Kastelic) choir of the Opera Zurich, they partake in the action of the piece, manipulate and separate the characters, when necessary; destiny itself assumes a primary role. Homoki gives us insights into his characters’ fears and thoughts. Together with Hartmut Meyer’s brilliant stage design, in which moving walls take different shapes and create different scopes for the singers, as a metaphor for fate, they manage to transform the lengthy opera (3.30h!) into grandiose theatre.
With such a complex staging comes the risk that something may not go as planned and so fate struck already in the middle of the overture, when one of the moving walls got stuck and broke through the middle. There was a short interruption as a result, but luckily they fixed it and conductor Fabio Luisi had to start over. They could have played it a third time with pleasure, because already from the beginning it was clear that the magic would happen in the orchestra pit. Luisi and his Philharmonia Zurich present the often-heard overture to the piece in such a beautifully coordinated timbre, where there is a huge focus on the contrast between a threatening forte and soft pianissimo as well as razor-sharp accentuation, that the work was sheer rhythmical perfection. With such a rich sound Luisi carried his singers on stage and always assured a perfect harmony between the orchestra and the singers.
It turns out that not every singer had their best night even with much consideration by Luisi. Marcelo Puente’s tenor often seemed pressed and shrill in the higher parts of the role as Alvaro. What a pity considering the actually beautiful timbre his voice has. One could think that Hibla Gerzmava’s dramatic soprano must be a bit too heavy for the role of Leonora, but the oceanic force her voice set free during the evening gave the suffering of her character so much more meaning. George Petean is always a very welcome guest at the Zurich Opera and he once again gave a role debut with bravado and the phenomenal G sharp at the end of “Urna fatale del mio destino” was rewarded with thunderous applause. The discovery of the evening though was J’Nai Bridges, a rising star in the opera world, which managed the technically demanding role of Preziosilla not only vocally but also with fantastic acting skills. Especially impressive were her quick changes from the upper register down to her powerful chest voice. Christof Fischesser managed to embody Leonora’s father, as well as the merciful Padre Guardiano, to which his voluminous bass suited perfectly (another smart idea by Homoki). Gezim Myshketa and Jamez McCorkle sung the always present Fra Melitone and Trabuco with great acting skills and brought a great amount of hilarity into the otherwise dark piece.