La forza del destino at the Washington National Opera, Kennedy Center, Washington, DC

Performance of Wednesday, 16 October, 2013

Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Conductor: Xian Zhang

Cast (In Order of Appearance)

Marquis of Calatrava: Peter Volpe
Donna Leonora of Vargas: Adina Aaron
Curra: Deborah Nansteel
Don Alvaro: Giancarlo Monsalve
Alcade: Soloman Howard
Don Carlo: Mark Delavan
Trabuco: Robert Baker
Preziosilla: Ketevan Kemoklidze
Melitone: Valeriano Lanchas
Father Guardiano: Enrico Iori
Army Surgeon: Christian Bowers

A new production by the WNO, directed by Francesca Zambello, with sets by Peter J. Davison

Note: Although most of Washington, DC's museums and monuments were closed throughout the budget crisis, and the Kennedy Center itself was closed to the public for tours during the day because its operations are the responsibility of the National Park Service, it was open during the duration for performances by the WNO, National Symphony and other groups, as they fortunately do not fall under the federal agency umbrella.

This new production of La forza del destino has been updated to the present time, along similar lines with the Met's new-ish production of Rigoletto. The cast of principals looked like it had been assembled, at least in part, because of their looks. Adina Aaron is a very striking, slender African-American woman, Giancarlo Monsalve a very handsome, 30-something Chilean tenor and Mark Delevan a burly Don Carlo.

Prologue:
The opera opens with a prologue that establishes the action: A large dining room with the cast seated and Leonora in evening dress very nervous, anticipating Don Alvaro's arrival, despite her father's efforts to separate them. The prologue ends, of course with Leonora's father shot dead and her brother, Don Carlo, swearing eternal vengeance. Giancarlo Monsalve as Don Alvaro, sang only with some effort, as did Mark Delevan's Don Carlo, though Delevan clearly knows how to act.

Overture

Act I:
The tavern scene, for example, now is set with a bar with pole-dancers, the chorus dressed in various urban costumes - pimp, hip-hop, streetwalkers and Preziosilla looking for all the world like Miley Cyrus (the Washington Post thought Madonna, but she is so over..) with the backdrop being a high set of shipping containers and a foreground of very impressive looking neon. It is quite a contrast when the pilgrims make their entrance in positively medieval-looking dress. It was Ketevan Kemoklidze's Preziosilla who was dressed in a skin-tight leotard and looked so much like Miley Cyrus. Her voice was noticeably uneven, but the leotard fit her very fit body like a glove. The monastery scene is an urban setting with a large corrugated metal gate painted with a large and very striking angelic Pieta. Adina Aaron proved to be a wonderful Leonora, singing gloriously, with Valeriano Lanchas a flustered and comic Melitone and Enrico Iori (Father Guardiano) both with ideal voices for their roles and nearly stole the first act.

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La forza del destino, Washington National Opera (photo by Scott Suchman)

Act II
The 2nd act's battle scene was well-staged, clearly borrowing from recent history with prisoners taken during the battle treated like a scene out of Abu Ghraib, heads covered in black hoods, shackled and marched around the stage and poked at and taunted. It was clear during intermission that audience members were unhappy with the production - I could hear a fair amount of grousing, but I really liked it (it probably didn't hurt that I knew nothing about the opera and had never heard it before). Everything, I thought, clicked dramatically, even if the two male leads were vocally weak, and I nevertheless enjoyed it.

Act III
The final act continued the performance's strong dramatic direction, with the highlight being Adina Aaron's showstopping "Pace Pace Mio Dio". The concluding duel/fight between Don Alvaro and Don Carlo was sung a little better than some of their earlier efforts and was well staged. The finale with Leonora running to her wounded brother's side and resulting in her own demise also was well done.

In all, I really liked - loved, even - the production, which I thought worked well with the music and Verdi's somewhat jumbled story line. I loved Adina Aaron and cringed through some of the singing by Ms. Kemoklidze and Messrs. Delevan and Monsalve, but despite their weaknesses, because I loved the opera itself and because of how well cast was Leonora and the comprimario roles, I had a great time and left the Kennedy Center very happy.