Reviews of Two “Forza del Destinos”, Part 1: Zurich Oper October 19, 2005

My wife and I attended new productions of “Forza del Destino” in Zurich, Switzerland on October 19 and San Francisco, California on November 20, 2005.

The production’s destiny

The new production was staged by French director Nicolas Joel, familiar to San Francisco Opera audiences as first a collaborator with Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, then as a stage director in his own right (see the DVD of San Francisco’s 1980 “Samson et Dalila” with Placido Domingo and Shirley Verrett).

The Zurich production demonstrated a tension between the staging of Nicolas Joel and the musical performance under the baton of Italian Maestro Nello Santi.

[Below: Director and impresario Nicolas Joel; edited image, based on a publicity photograph from the operadeparis.fr.]

It seemed that, Joel, supported by the Zurich management, intended to depart from the traditional two intermissions. This “Forza” was split into two parts, the first ending at the induction of Leonora into the monastery. The resulting second part is therefore much longer than the first, perhaps twice as long.

Maestro Santi Imposes HIs Will

Obviously, Santi wanted two intermissions instead of one. But Santi compromised with management. At the point at which he would have placed the second intermission, he set his baton down and left for about 15 minutes, leaving the orchestra and audience in the darkened theatre. No one got an intermission except him. Then he returned, smiled, picked up the baton and continued on with his third act, or the second part of management’s second act.

[Below: Conductor Nello Santi; resized image of a promotional photograph.]

NelloSanti2

The Zurich production’s cast included the Padre Guardiano of Matti Salminen (who was to perform six weeks later as Gurnemanz in the Los Angeles “Parsifal” mounted for Placido Domingo [see Domingo is the Redeemer of L.A.’s spellbound “Parsifal”: December 8, 2005]) In 1984, Salminen had been the Prince Khovansky the first time I saw Mussorgsky’s “Khovanschina”. Also in the Zurich cast were Joanna Kozlowska as Leonora, Vincenzo La Scola as Don Alvaro, Rosanna Rinaldi as Preziosilla and Paolo Rumetz as Fra Melitone.

The singer with whom I was most familiar was Italian baritone Leo Nucci, cast as Don Carlo di Vargas.Nucci had been well-received in San Francisco in 1983 as Germont in “La Traviata”, in 1985 as Michonnet in Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur” and in 1987 as Figaro in “Barber of Seville”.

[Below: Italian baritone Leo Nucci was Don Carlo; edited image of a publicity photograph from www.leo-nucci.com.]

It is rare that a Don Carlo steals the show from the Leonora and Alvaro, but Nucci did just that, with a bravura performance of Son Pereda, son rico d’onore in the Hornachuelos Inn scene. At the end of his aria, he not only stepped out of character to accept the vigorous Zurich applause, but he gestured (and had his gesture reciprocated) his appreciation for Santi’s conducting. Whatever is happening in the rest of the world, the traditions of Italian opera appear secure in Santi’s Zurich.

The sets were by Italian designer Ezio Frigerio, whose lavishly beautiful sets for Verdi’s “Nabucco”, a co-production of the Teatro Bellini di Catania (Italy) and the San Francisco Opera, I had admired in its San Francisco mounting.

[Below: Production designer Ezio Frigerio; resized image, based on a publicity photograph.]

The production had mostly traditional elements, associated with a time and place (18th century Spain and Italy) specified by Verdi and his librettist, with appropriate period costumes by Franca Squarciapino. The principal anachronism was a metallic cage that represented Leonora’s cell.

[Below: Leonora (Joanna Kozlowska, bottom enter left) is disguised as a hermit whose cell is on a monastery’s grounds in the Zurich Oper 2005 Ezio Frigerio set design; edited image, based on a production photograph for the Zurich Oper.]

Even with its idiosyncrasies, the Zurich production was a wholly satisfactory evening. I have long admired the musicianship of Maestro Santi and the stagecraft of Director Joel.

My next “Forza” would be my first opportunity to attend an opera performance led by Maestro Nicola Luisotti, representing a new generation of Italian conductors. (See Reviews of Two “Forza del Destinos”, Part 2: San Francisco Opera, November 20, 2005.)