David Pountney is rarely afraid of taking risks in pursuit of an idea and that seems to be what’s going on in his 2008 Wiener Staatsoper production of Verdi’s La forza del destino. The basic concept seems to be to draw as much distinction as possible between the piece’s predominantly dark tone while making the ‘scherzo’ like elements as mad as possible. And occasionally mixing up the two to create deliberate confusion. To this end he uses a lot of moving set elements and projections; often fuzzily superimposed on stage action. Preziosilla and the camp followers are hot pants clad cowgirls. The full effect is seen in the Act 3 “orgy” where hospital patients, some on drips etc, interact with cow girls and a marching band while giant fuzzy B&W projections of WW2 armour play on the scrim. It’s really busy and takes some decoding.
Unfortunately on video decoding is even more difficult because video director Karina Fibich repeatedly chooses shots that make it all but impossible to figure out what’s going on. I was left with the impression that I would probably have enjoyed this production a lot in the theatre but the video made me want to throw things at the screen.
Further to the “it’s a pity” theme, the singing and acting is absolutely brilliant. Nina Stemme is truly touching as Leonora and Salvatore Licitra sings absolutely beautifully and idiomatically as Alvaro and makes the part entirely convincing. He even looks vaguely Inca! Carlos Álvarez sings powerfully and relentlessly as the obsessed and slightly crazed Carlos. Alastair Miles has suitable gravitas as Calatrava/Guardiano and Nadia Krasteva is obviously having a whale of a time as a booty short clad, gun toting, cowgirl gypsy. The chorus have a lot to do and do it very well. Zubin Mehta conducts in fine Verdian style. I can’t fault any aspect of the music making.
The video quality on Blu-ray is good and it needs to be. I imagine this would look even more of a hot mess on DVD. The DTS-HD MA surround sound is also top notch. There are no extras on the disk. The booklet includes a synopsis and a track listing but no director’s notes which might have been a good idea. Subtitle options arecItalian, German, French,Spanish, Chines and Korean.
This is perhaps a disk for the brave (or fool hardy) and there is an equally well sung recording available with Harteros and Kaufmann in a sort of “Regie lite” Martin Kušej production. It’s a safer bet.