San Francisco Opera's "La Forza del Destino" concluded its run ronight
with a truly memorable performance. Everybody in the large cast did
well, but there were three outstanding artists who made the near-capacity
audience in the War Memorial very happy indeed.
Nicola Luisotti, whose conducting debut here three weeks ago set the
premiere on fire, slowed down a bit, and let up slightly in intensity,
but he led a performance of precision and beauty, reaching a heavenly
peak in the Act 1 Madonna of the Angels scene, with a veritable perfection
of balance, tempo, dynamics; the interaction of orchestra, men's chorus
and Leonora (Andrea Gruber in excellent if not completely consistent
form) creating a heartwrenching impact.
Orlin Anastassov's Father Guardiano is for the ages: the 29-year-old
Bulgarian bass has a gloriously natural way of singing, assuasive music
- warm, mellow, bright - is just pouring out of him, effortlessly,
And, once again, concertmaster Kay Stern "sang" the best Leonora I ever
heard, her solo of the opera's great theme filling the house with uncanny,
Add to the Luisotti-Anastassov-Stern trio Roland Aeschlimann's bizarre
but grand sets and Andrea Schmidt-Futterer's rainbow costumes (in black
and white, that is), and that was more than sufficient onto the night.
Jill Grove's Preziosilla and Zeljko Lucic's Don Carlo were good as ever,
Vladmimir Kuzmenko's still-uncomfortable Don Alvaro sounded at least
acceptable tonight, and the Opera Chorus (especially the men, when
ordained) was often at its best.
Given this truly good night, it may sound strange, but there is some
relief in seeing "Forza" go, certain not to come back for many years,
if ever. Even with a seasoned opera fan's split brain of focussing on
music and disregarding idiotic plots, "Forza" is just galling, more and
more over the years. It's amazing that no one in the audience ever
screams at Leonora in the first scene to stop stalling or her father
will eventually hear the tenor, however weak the voice may be... all
the ensuing unpleasantness to be avoided, saving four hours of grotesque
suffering, and surely Verdi could have used the music somewhere else.
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