A black hole in Florence

Carlus Padrissa’s (of La fura dels baus) take on Verdi’s La forza del destino for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is nothing if not ambitious.  He interprets this rather banal and meandering melodrama as a tale of cosmic inevitability.  Leonora and Alvaro are metaphors for two stars, which after an epic journey through time and space, will collide and form a black hole extinguishing each other.  FWIW the recording was made in June 2020 under COVID restrictions so the chorus is masked and it sounds as if the theatre is a lot less than full.


So the opera plays out over an extended time period, starting in 1759 in Seville and proceeding via the VIRGO gravitational lab in 2027 where the perturbations in the gravitational field of the events of 1759 are detected to, eventually, a post apocalyptic future where skin clad survivors fight duels with giant thigh bones.  One might question this concept but it allows Padrissa and his team to create something that is incredibly spectacular.


The basic set design is a horizontal four sided pyramid receding to the “point of infinity”.  Sometimes structures are placed in this space but often it’s quite plain and used mainly as a backdrop for stunning videos by Franc Aleu.  There is also extensive use of aerialists and dancers so there’s always a lot (too much for video??) going on.  The videos are also used to explain the space/time progression between acts.


Staging aside, the story telling is pretty much “by the book”.  All the canonical things happen.  Padre Guardiano and Mellitone are monks in a monastery, Leonora becomes a hermit, Alvaro and Carlo are soldiers etc.  There are some other cool touches.  The 23rd century medical treatment Alvarez receives after his wound is fascinating and the ending, as previously alluded to, takes place not in an inn but around a campfire where Mellitone is roasting a mammoth or something like it.


As usual the camp follower scenes are used as a vehicle for injecting spectacle, a bit of humour and a lot of eye candy.  Aeriualists, really good dancers and a mezzo Preziosilla who can shake it like Annalisa Stroppa help a lot with that.  It takes chutzpah to wear a body stocking and a flashing bra (and more than chutzpah to actually look good in it!).


Generally the singing and acting is very good.  Aside from Stroppa, who sings as well as she acts, there’s a first class performance from Amartuvshin Enkhbat as Carlo who sings powerfully but with a proper sense of style and convey’s Carlo’s obsession very clearly.  Roberto Aronica, as Alvaro, is not the most bell-like Verdi tenor out there but he’s got the notes and his acting is excellent.  There’s a cameo from veteran Ferrucio Furlanetto, as Padre Guardiano and he’s still got it.  Nicola Alamo plays Mellitone rather in the buffo tradition and does it well.


Then there’s Saoia Hernández as Leonora.  It’s a rather understated take on the character which I suspect is what Paadrissa wanted.  There’s a kind of stillness in here amid all the space-time mayhem.  She also perhaps has a slicier voice than I’m used to hearing in a role like this.  Certainly she doesn’t sound like Stemme or Harteros on the main competitor recordings.  I’m wondering of this is an Italian thing.  I know Italian houses prefer a more dramatic voice for Mozart than German houses.  Is there a similar national split for Verdi sopranos?  All that said she’s good and her final aria in particular is lovely.  Zubin Mehta conducts and it all sounds properly Verdian.


Tiziano Mancini had the unenviable task of getting this monster onto video.  The final result is highly watchable so 10/10 to him but one feels, nevertheless that there’s a lot going on in the house that isn’t captured on the video.  With lots of dark scenes, videos and complex lighting a top notch picture is essential.  The Blu-ray has it.  I wouldn’t risk DVD with this one.  The customary DTS-HD-MA and hi-res stereo soundtracks are also both excellent.


There are no extras on the disk but the booklet has a good synopsis, a track listing and very helpful director’s notes.  Subtitle options are Italian, English, French, German, Korean and Japanese.


There’s stiff competition for this work on video.  There’s a relatively conventional Munich recording with Kaufmann and Harteros and an earlier Vienna staging by David Pountney that pretty much matches the exuberance of the Preziosilla scenes here and has Stemme and Álvarez. This Florence version can’t match the luxury casting o9f either alternative but it’s interesting and better filmed than either of the other versions.


Catalogue number: Dynamic DYN-57930


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