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Verdi: La Forza del Destino [Wiener Staatsoper/Mehta] Blu-ray Review

 

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Performance

[Rating:3.5/5]


Opera is rife with complex plots where fate weighs heavily on the proceedings. Giuseppe Verdi’s works were significantly influenced by the workings of destiny which he considered in such diverse operas as Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and Don Carlo. La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny) is probably his supreme statement of how fate shapes the protagonists’ lives through its various twists and turns.  In spite of  powerful orchestration and choral sections, La Forza del Destinoremains a very intimate opera weaving together three characters, Don Alvaro (the late tenor Salvatore Licitra), his lover Leonora di Vargas (Nina Stemme), and her brother Don Carlo (Carlos Alvarez).  As Alvaro and Leonora are eloping, they are surprised by the Marquis, Leonora’s father, (Alastair Miles who also doubles as Padre Guardiano). After the Marquis is accidentally killed, the remainder of the opera follows the lovers’ trail as they are pursued by Don Carlo in his quest for vengeance.

While Verdi’s music and Piave’s libretto are self-sustaining, this middle career composition is anything but easy to carry off in actual performance.  I can attest to this issue from personal experience.  Be warned at the outset, this 2008 Wiener Staatsoper production, directed by David Poutney, has been seriously updated, complete with hookers in cowgirl outfits, and has mostly dark minimalist sets. Fortunately, the cast has some strengths, and is ably supported by maestro Zubin Mehta, himself no stranger to the Verdi idiom.

Video Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

This dark opera is mirrored by a very spare and dark set consisting of some white blocks and columns with occasional flashes of brilliance (the red seminarian and cowgirl outfits in Act II). There are periodic film projections which I eventually found not only distracting but not adding anything substantial to the dramatic action. In most respects, Poutney’s decision to go the regietheater route will not appeal to Verdi traditionalists. There is some softness of details, most noticeable when the lighting is not focused on the character, and tenor Licitra is the major victim of these shortcomings. This is most noticeable during closeups shot through an apparent scrim. Otherwise, the videography does the best that it can with what it is given. The biggest visual problem is the unkind treatment that the camera deals soprano Stemme. Her make up and wardrobe make her look absolutely dowdy. Surely, viewers deserved better than that.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

There is superb recording of the voices and pit orchestra going on here. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 soundtrack provides a small amount of ambience but gets the voices just right.  The male leads are caught in great voice, the females not so much. Stemme’s Leonora is potent but clearly lacks the inherent Verdian warmth of Leontyne Price or Martina Arroyo or the innocence of Renata Tebaldi. These attributes are critical to the role which is that of a troubled rather than heroic woman. Mezzo-soprano Krasteva has most of the notes but little clue about who her character really is.  Fortunately, the male leads are as good as it gets today. Baritone Alvarez is the star of this show and delivers a stunning rendition of the “urna fatale” aria.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:0/5]

No extras are provided with this BD only trailers for other C Major videos. Given an opera as challenging as Forza, this was a disappointment. I would have liked to get director Poutney’s thoughts about this new production since it is so nontraditional.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:3.5/5]

If you survey the many Forzas available in video format, going back to B/W DVDs and the like, some of the finest singers of the last 75 years have been immortalized on disc. Getting more specific to the Blu-ray medium, there is a previous Blu-ray, ironically enough under Mehta’s baton. Outside of impassioned conducting, this disc is no competitor for the current issue. Since La Forza del Destino performances do not get recorded every day let alone issued on Blu-ray, this disc may need to serve for a considerable period of time. So be it. Yes, I have reservations about Stemme’s unidiomatic realization of Leonora and her lack of Italianate style and Licitra’s unyielding stentorian approach to Alvaro. My subtractions of performance points have more to do with the staging than the singing. If you are looking for a “golden age” video performance, your search will yield much older videos with less than pristine picures (and most of those oldies are miserable) or sonics. All notwithstanding, this is a generally solid performance, particularly on the parts of Carlos Alvarez and maestro Mehta that will serve as a stop gap for the time being.

Additional Screen Captures

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Purchase La Forza del Destino on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:3.5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:3.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0/5]

 

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