Verdi’s La Forza Del Destino returned to the Met this season after an absence of 18 years. It was staged in a new production supervised by the Polish director Mariusz Trelinski. He moved both the time and places from the middle of the 18th century in Spain and Italy to sometime in the second half of the 20th century in no particular country though the final scene appeared to be in a bombed-out New York City subway station.

The production is best described as an atrocity. It featured projections of all sorts of stuff ranging from spiritual to war helicopters. The opera was portrayed against a background of an unspecified conflict ending in something close to civilization’s collapse. Leonora’s father (the Marquis de Calatrava) also sang the role of Padre Guardiano who for a mysterious reason was blind in the last act. The glorious trio that closes the opera was sung by bass Soloman Howard in his Calatrava persona instead of Verdi’s setting of the piece for Padre Guardiano. The soprano and tenor parts were performed as written. Calatrava seemed to be some sort of Caudillo wearing a military uniform – the Army and country were again unspecified. Leonora seemed to be in a Freudian conflict between her father and lover. By the end of all the onstage mayhem, she was a bag lady in the subway which was even grimier than the real New York tube.

The Met unfortunately has a revolving stage. Trelinski had it moving so much that his players must have been on a max dose of Dramamine. There was so much activity going on during each bit of revolving that all that was missing were wooden horses going up and down.

Then there were the dancing bunnies – female dancers wearing white bunny masks in Act 2 and black ones in Act 3. The reason for their presence remains mysterious. This Forza differed so much from Verdi’s that the English translations of the Italian verses were altered to fit the action or censored to avoid currently unapproved words. For example, Don Carlo almost succeeds in getting Alvaro who is half Inca (mentioned only in Italian in his great third act aria) by changing “Sangue il tinge di mulatto” to describing his heritage as “tainted”. Mulatto is the same in both English and Italian. A true translation would be: “It is colored by your half-breed’s blood.” “Mulattto” could be substituted for “half-breed”.

I’ve wasted enough words on another operatic chimera. Forza works only when three or even four great voices are cast. So how was the singing? It’s hard for me to tell. The singers were all so closely miked and their sound so boosted that what was heard in the movie theater was almost certainly very different from what the in-person audience heard. Nevertheless, I’ll make my best guess as to what was going on live. Lise Davidsen’s soprano is a great instrument, almost in the same class as her fellow Norwegian Kirsten Flagsted and that of the Swedish wonder Birgit Nilsson. She’s worth a special trip to hear her perform. She was fine as Leonora (the third Verdi heroine with that name), but her voice is better suited for German opera like those of Wagner and Strauss. It has more than enough power for the explosive Verdi music, but is short on vocal velvet and the floated pianissimi that are in virtually all of Verdi’s great music for the soprano.

Tenor Brian Jagde has been singing a lot at the Met, mostly to good reviews. I’ve been put off by the harsh sound that characterizes his singing. He has all the notes, but they were not pleasant and lacked squillo. Today he sounded much better than I’ve heard him previously. He was a full-voiced spinto with ringing high notes. The audience reacted very favorably during his post-performance bows, so the better sound may have been real rather than the child of electronic manipulation. He suggested during an intermission interview that Otello was in his future. If he continues to sound as he did today, he could sing the role. This said he didn’t make much of the great Act 3 aria ‘La vita è inferno all’infelice … O tu che in seno agli angeli’ opera’s great monument to sell pity. This is one of the greatest tenor arias ever written and needs great expressive effort as well as powerful utterances. Jagde was fine but offered nothing memorable.

Don Carlo is another in a long line of great baritone parts written by Verdi who was the best friend any operatic baritone ever had. Igor Golovatenko was singing the role for the first time. He has a well formed voice that seems right for Verdi. Again fine, but not memorable.

Bass Soloman Howard, mentioned above, was adequate in his two roles melded into one. His voice is a little light for the Padre part. When not part of the action he appeared zombie-like at what Trelinski thought were critical moments in the story. I missed the significance of these apparitions.

Patrick Carfizzi was vocally at the top of his game as the annoying Fra Melitone. He was a little too angry and hostile for my taste and missed some of the comedy written into the part.

Mezzo Judit Kutasi was satisfying as the gypsy fortune teller Preziosilla. Her rendition of the Rataplan song in Act 3 gave reason for not cutting it as the Met did in the 20th century. The Met also used to scrap the scene at the Inn where the white bunnies cavorted. The rest of the cast did their best in the chaos of this benighted production.

Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin was in better form than during the broadcast of the prima. The famous overture was played with more vigor and force today than during the first performance. His orchestra played, as usual, to perfection. They were lucky in that most of them couldn’t see the stage.

Gary Halvorson’s closeups had the value of preventing the viewer from seeing the onstage action. Virtue hides in many disguises.

In summary, a good performance of a great opera staged like a bad joke. The Met may not do Forza for another 18 years until they can afford a new production. The company has raised its top ticket to $480. You have to be crazy or a New Yorker to pay that much to see this theatrical monstrosity when you can listen to it on the radio for nothing and not have to watch it.

Leonora………Lise Davidsen
Don Alvaro………Brian Jagde
Don Carlo……..Igor Golovatenko
Preziosilla……..Judit Kutasi
Fra Melitone……..Patrick Carfizzi
Marquis de Calatrava/Padre Guardiano……..Soloman Howard
Curra………Stephanie Lauricella
Mayor………Christopher Job
Trabuco……..Carlo Bosi
Surgeon……..Paul Corona
Vendor……..Lee Steiner
Vendor……..Jeremy Little
Vendor………Ned Hanlon

Conductor……….Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Video Director………Gary Halvorson
Production……….Mariusz Trelinski
Set Designer……….Boris Kudlicka
Costume Designer……….Moritz Junge
Lighting Designer……….Marc Heinz
Lighting Designer………Bartek Macias
Lighting Designer………Macko Prusak