Review: What's the Destiny of the Met's New FORZA? Close Your Eyes and Listen to the Fine Cast

Davidsen, Jagde and Golovatenko Under Nezet-Seguin Almost Make Trelinski’s Production Count

By: Feb. 27, 2024
Review: What's the Destiny of the Met's New FORZA? Close Your Eyes and Listen to the Fine Cast
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Much was made of the fact that it’s been almost 20 years since Verdi’s LA FORZA DEL DESTINO was last seen at the Met. For its heralded return, they picked a choice cast (starting with Lise Davidsen), a fine conductor (Music Director Yannick Nezet Seguin) and a director (Marius Trelinski) who’s, well,… Two out of three ain’t bad, considering the cast. So we might as well start there.

And there starts with soprano Lise Davidsen who was the evening’s Leonora. I’ve been a fan since her Met debut in QUEEN OF SPADES and heard many of her performances, both in opera and recital, and would’ve walked a mile to get there in a blizzard. But I have to say that there were many moments in last night’s opening when I was wishing that I was hearing her in Strauss or Wagner or Tchaikovsky or maybe even Puccini. But Verdi? I’ll have to wait for the next one to have more information.

Oh, there’s no disputing that she’s a very fine acting-singer and her mezza voce was gorgeous. And, with her towering stature, she looked absolutely stunning in the mauve dress at the opening. (She did almost as much for the color as Marilyn Monroe did in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES.) And she certainly did herself proud in the opera’s big aria, “Pace, pace.”

Yet, I missed a lusher sound more suitable for Verdi in much of her singing, particularly near the beginning of the opera. I know that everyone wants her to be the go-to singer in everything in the repertoire, but she’s a human being and you can’t always have your druthers. Still, I’d rather hear a “not quite” from her than “quite right” from just about anyone else these days.

She was paired well with her male counterparts. There was, indeed, some fine acting as well as singing in this performance. In just a few years, tenor Brian Jagde, as her lover, Alvaro, has grown a voice that’s impressively large and voluptuous—even more surprising, since he started life as a baritone. That’s kind of a shock, considering how good he sounds in his current fach, including impressive high notes. True, it did take him a while to warm up, but by the time of his big aria in Act III, O tu che seno agli angeli,” he was on firm ground.

Jagde was also quite good in his pair of duets with the superb baritone Igor Golovatenko--particularly “Solenne in quest’ora” --as Leonora’s brother Carlo, who relentlessly searches for Alvaro to avenge his father’s death and (assumed) sister’s seduction. Bass Soloman Howard  had double duty in this production: as Leonora’s father, who has a fairly quick demise toward the beginning that sets the plot in motion, and as Padre Guardiano, in charge of the monastery where Leonora decides to sequester herself. Is she hallucinating him? It was one of Trelinski’s few useful devices.

The singers in two smaller but key roles had mixed results: The reliable bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi was in particularly fine form as Fra Mellitone, not only for his comic instincts but showing off his lush voice, and then there was mezzo Judit Kutasi, as Preziosilla, who’s usually a camp follower but here is a kind of nightclub performer/soothsayer; she had a difficult night in her Met debut and her sometimes-rough vocalizing didn’t make a particularly good impression , for me at least.

The Met’s Music Director Nezet-Seguin and the Met orchestra and chorus had a great night, showing off their ability to be the best show in town, all by themselves. They made listening to Verdi’s often-pungent writing a real treat.

Have I left anything out: Oh, yes, the production, complements of Mariusz Trelinski. The Met hasn’t had a new production of FORZA for 30 years; it is very unlikely that this one will come anything close to that longevity—or even to the end of a decade. True, it came from the Polish National Opera/Teatr Weikl and the costs could be amortized, but it is pretty lethal in all regards, no matter what it cost.

With its bows to the helicopters from “Apocalypse Now” (after all, this is an apocalyptic vision of the world) and dancers dressed as cats that could have come from “Cabaret” (or even "Cats") one could only wonder what was on his mind in this exceedingly grim, measurably ugly, uselessly dark conceit. I thought his Star-Trek inspired TRISTAN was off the rails; this made that seem a delight. His design team deserve their due: Boris Kudlicka's set design with Bartek Macias's projections, Marc Heinz's lighting and Moritz Junge's costumes. The choreography was by Macko Prusak.

And then there was the car-wreck that led Leonora to her monastery. Did someone at the Met get a deal from a used car and truck dealer? Between this and the new CARMEN, it seems like the only explanation—except for telegraphing that both productions were car-wrecks.

Still, we have all that marvelous singing, which makes a trip to the Met all worthwhile. All you have to is close your eyes and click your heels—and you’re home. (Or at least somewhere else.)

Photo: Lise Davidsen

Credit: Karen Almond/Met Opera