Verdi – la Forza del Destino.
Leonora – Liudmila Monastyrska
Don Carlo – Simone Piazzola
Alvaro – Gregory Kunde
Il Marchese di Calatrava – Sim In-Sung
Padre Guardiano – Stephen Milling
Preziosilla – Yekaterina Semenchuk
Fra Melitone – Valeriano Lanchas
Curra – Cristina Alunno
Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana / Zubin Mehta.
Stage director – Davide Livermore
Palau de les Arts, València. Saturday, June 14th, 2014.
After a thrilling Turandot the previous evening, which may well be the finest I have heard, it was perhaps inevitable that tonight might have seemed an anti-climax. The show took a good couple of acts to take wing but once it did, it was a very good Forza if not perhaps a vintage one.
Gregory Kunde impressed me greatly with his Otello in this very theatre last year. Tonight he took a while to warm up, but once he did he rewarded us with singing of exceptional quality. His first big set piece ‘o tu che in seno agli angeli’ sounded a little tight although the quality of his phrasing and use of text was not in doubt. By the end of the act, the voice had opened up and the warm, open tone that made his Otello such a highlight was there and he offered us some stunning top notes. At the age of 60 Kunde is undoubtedly a Verdi tenor of real distinction. He is due to sing Manrico at the Royal Opera the season after next and that should definitely be worth hearing. He also blended well with Simone Piazzola’s Carlo. Piazzola is a very young singer for this repertoire – he is only 29 – but he is the owner of an especially exciting baritone. The sound is bright, the voice is a good size and easily produced and he has a really impressive top. Naturally, he has a good grasp of textual awareness and phraseology. A very impressive new talent and I hope that he isn’t pushed too far, too soon.
Exciting also describes the singing of Ludmila Monastyrska’s Leonora but for very different reasons. The voice is large but she is able to fine it down to some impressive pianissimi. It’s a big, vibrant perhaps unsubtle sound and certainly admirable in its own way. Sadly her intonation could charitably be described as wayward. Much was very uncomfortable to listen to and I would happily trade some of the volume for better tuning. It could be that her generous instrument is not quite under the control of its owner. She was rapturously received by the audience (except for one idiot who booed her ‘pace, pace’). Yekaterina Semenchuk’s Preziosilla was very similar. It’s an incredibly difficult part to pull off, the range is massive and it needs a fluency in coloratura that Semenchuk doesn’t quite have. She also has a big, vibrant sound but, as with Monastyrska, not much was made of the words and she was often flat. I’d certainly like to hear her again though in a part that is perhaps better suited to her undoubted gifts.
Stephen Milling’s Padre Guardiano was excellent, a big sound easily produced. Valeriano Lanchas’s cameo as Fra Melitone was much more notable than it normally is due to his large and warm voice. As always at this address, the choral singing was in a class of its own. They were a little tentative at the start but quickly warmed up and rewarded us with their usual blend of tight ensemble, bright tone and tonal unanimity. The tricky ‘Rataplan’ chorus was brought off to perfection. The orchestra again cemented their reputation as one of the very best offering us playing of great vibrancy and richness.
Zubin Mehta offered us a big, bold and highly weighty reading. I have to say that I found it less successful than the Turandot of the previous evening. Verdi needs a lightness of touch that we didn’t quite get tonight. The whole thing felt that it needed tightening up with sharper attack and crisper rhythms. Do not for a second think that it wasn’t outstanding in its own way; it was, but perhaps not the way I personally like my Verdi to sound.
Davide Livermore’s production shared some of the same elements that frustrated me in his Otello last year, particularly the constant focus on red and black colours. That said, I feel that it was infinitely more satisfying than that production. He used film a lot in order to illustrate a situation and the set was minimal. The evening opened with a movie using captions to describe the story. This worked well to introduce the plot, especially to newcomers to the work. Costumes reflected the 1940s and movie footage of the end of World War 2 illustrated the action at times. It looked good and certainly illuminated the story in an innovative way.
Tonight’s performance was attended by the Queen of Spain in whose honour the Palau de les Arts was named. The start of Act 4 was marked with a spontaneous outburst of support for Maestro Mehta and the musicians, the audience on its feet and shouting messages of support. The very survival of this great institution is at stake and it is more than possible that this will be its last season. I sincerely hope that it isn’t. It’s a wonderful house, blessed with stunning architecture, a marvellous acoustic and an orchestra and chorus amongst the very best in the world. It would be a real tragedy if it were to close. If they do manage to resolve their issues, I will certainly be back and will do exactly what I would encourage all my readers to do – buy a ticket and visit this fine theatre.