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Metropolitan Opera Review: La Forza del Destino 2023-2024

Updated: Mar 3

By Alkis Karmpaliotis

On Monday, February 26, the Metropolitan Opera kicked off the second half of its season, after a month-long recess, with its first new production of Verdi's underrated masterpiece La Forza del Destino in nearly 30 years. The premiere was heavily advertised and highly anticipated, boasting a star-studded cast of singers, including Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, who, with yet another triumph on the Met stage, has cemented her place amongst the world's best opera singers.

Forza marks a transitional period in Verdi's career and is widely considered the first of his "late period" operas, several of which were criticized in their time for supposedly deviating from the Italian style and following Wagner. I've never understood these criticisms; in reality, Forza showcases Verdi’s stylistic versatility more than any of his other works. Forza is, indeed, reminiscent of Wagner in its use of leitmotifs; for example, the famous overture opens with the iconic "fate" motif, marked by an ominous three-note E in the brass, which is known even to non-opera fans through its use in popular culture, and comprises several different themes that develop further throughout the opera in a style very similar to Wagner's music dramas. However, the first scene of Act 2 contains some of the most bel-canto-like music Verdi ever wrote, with three delightful melodies, overlapping and complimenting each other, that could have come straight out of a Donizetti comedy. The same can be said for the Melitone scene in Act 4, with a perfectly light and jolly — yet full of dramatic irony — repetition of "Il padre Raffael" in the chorus. Adding to the diversity of style, towards the end of Act 2, Verdi shocks us with a leitmotif-filled aria — the second of three sung by Leonora — and an act finale that is reminiscent of Tannhäuser in its intricate orchestration and religiosity. The variety of style within this opera is ingenious, but at the core of Forza remains pure Verdi, containing some of the most distinctly Italianesque music ever composed, especially in the classic father-daughter duets that serve as the backbone to so many of Verdi’s operas. With Forza, Verdi was not succumbing to the increasing popularity of the Wagnerian style but making a statement: that there was nothing he could not do. So, how did the Met's new Forza measure up to Verdi's demanding expectations? Let's begin with the production.

In my recent interview with him, Met General Manager Peter Gelb shared that the Met plans to present more contemporary productions of operas that audiences — especially younger people — can relate to. Polish Director Mariusz Treliński, who has collaborated with the Met in previous productions of Tristan und Isolde and the double-bill Iolana/Bluebeard's Castle, delivered on his mission to provide a fresh take to Verdi's classic. His production, which opened last year in Warsaw, takes Francesco Maria Piave's impossibly challenging and obscure storyline and sets it in the modern day, with the Marquis de Calatrava morphed into General Calatrava, a dictatorial military figure, and his mansion in Act 1 becoming the Hotel Calatrava.

The overture features a pantomime, acted out by the principal cast, which gives context to Leonora's upbringing. A few seconds before the dramatic three-note brass unison that opens the piece, the curtain rises, and Leonora storms out of the "hotel's" front door and paces around the stage with a cigarette as if in a state of panic. While the orchestra plays the overture, the set spins around in a manner similar to many of the Met's other Verdi productions, such as Rigoletto and Nabucco, to reveal several different settings. Davidsen's impeccable stage presence and acting skills perfectly captured her struggles throughout the scene, as she, on several occasions, fought to release herself from her father's grasp. Lifting the curtain for an overture as well-known as this, especially one that gives such a musically rich introduction to the opera, was a bold and risky move — but it paid off, as this opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the production, showing how Leonora grew in an oppressive and patriarchal system. The remainder of Act 1 shows off the production's beautiful set, while providing room for the principal cast members to show off their acting. At the end, Alvaro's accidental killing of Calatrava triggers a dramatic chain of events, including the country spiraling into war.

The setting and choreography of the pub scene in Act 2 are vaguely reminiscent of Michael Mayer’s Las-Vegas-themed production of Rigoletto a few years ago, resembling a modern bar. The contemporary setting, while obscure at first, actually answers many questions audiences typically have about the opera’s plot, including why Carlo so vehemently seeks vengeance for his father’s death. Treliński addresses this concern by presenting Carlo as a drunk lunatic, spiraling into madness in the aftermath of his father’s death. One of the production’s most important characteristics is the use of a screen that projects videos with captions in between acts and scenes, an innovative feature that also addresses many potential plot holes. For example, in between the first two scenes of Act 2, a projector shows Leonora driving frantically away from the bar where her malevolent brother pursued her, getting into a car crash, and ultimately winding up at a church. This addition to the opera helps explain why Leonora chose the religious path that she did. While these additions may seem distracting to experienced operagoers, they provide an added layer of context for audience members trying to understand Verdi’s at times ridiculously complex story.

The production's best moments are in Acts 3 and 4. The warzone of Act 3 is incredibly detailed, providing a perfect foundation for the incredible arias of Alvaro, Carlo, and even Preziosilla, as well as the several dynamic duets between the two male protagonists. Treliński places Act 4, which is originally set in a cloister, in a desolate subway station, where a group of people, left homeless in the aftermath of the war, including Leonora, turn to the church for food. Going into the performance, I worried that the production would deviate too far from the original plot and wind up too far-fetched. As it turned out, the production not only fit the opera perfectly but contributed to the plot, making it interesting and relatable for today’s audiences.

This is exactly the type of production that will have people, even opera novices, running to the theater. This is deeply meaningful to me, as it aligns perfectly with the purpose of to expand opera's appeal and make it more accessible to young people. For that reason — and I cannot emphasize this enough — all opera fans, whether traditionalists or modernists, should celebrate this production and hope for its success.

The production was undoubtedly a hit. But the crème de la crêpe of this Forza was the singing. One of Treliński’s more interesting choices was to have the roles of Calatrava and the Father performed by the same bass. While I was initially skeptical about this decision, the transition between the two was seamless, and it brought to light the irony of how Leonora saw her own father in the face of the priest. The production presents Leonora’s two father figures as oppressive, if not dictatorial, people, adding a dramatic element to two roles once considered simple. Soloman Howard was incredible in these roles, both as an actor and singer. In the finale of Act 2, during Leonora’s procession into the hermitage, Howard belted out the word "Maledizione!" with a ferocity that sent chills through every audience member in the hall. One of the world's most gorgeous bass voices, Howard was a highlight of the opera all the way to the last scene, when he reappeared as Leonora's father, singing "Non imprecare, umiliati" with a smooth and melodious musical line.

Alkis Karmpaliotis with Soloman Howard
Me alongside bass Soloman Howard

In her Met debut, Judit Kutasi was engaging and seductive as Preziosilla, demonstrating her vocal capabilities in the war-promoting arias of Acts 2 and 3. Her “Al suon del tamboro” was steady and controlled, while her coloratura was vibrant and exciting. Baritone Igor Golavatenko was similarly exceptional as Leonora’s vengeful brother Carlo. His Act 2 aria “Son Pereda, son ricco d’onore” contained some of his most beautiful singing of the night, oscillating masterfully between a soft, gentle sound and a louder, harsher tone. It only got better from there: his duets with tenor Brian Jagde in Act 3 and 4 showed his flexibility and vocal technique, and his Act 3 aria — especially the cabaletta — left the audience starstruck. 

As the ill-fated hero Don Alvaro, the up-and-coming tenor Brian Jagde left his mark on the Met stage. He came onto the stage firing, with the impassioned line “Ah, per sempre, o mio bell’angelo!” and remained consistently solid throughout the short but sweet Act 1. After a long break in Act 2, Act 3 of Forza presents one of the most demanding strings of pieces in the tenor repertoire, including a ten minute aria, several duets (some of which involve the tenor lying in a bed), and lots of moving around on stage. Jagde quickly proved to be up to the task. His aria, “O tu che in seno agli angeli,” a common concert aria for tenors, was heartbreakingly beautiful, especially in the climax, where he cried out the words “Leonora mia, pieta!” with a precise forte and impressive expression. His long series of duets with Carlo, from the melodious and harmonically rich “Or muoio tranquillo” to the vibrant “No, d’un imene il vincolo,” were some of the opera’s biggest highlights. Jagde’s voice control, especially in the higher register, was sublime.

Alkis Karmpaliotis with Brian Jagde
Me alongside tenor Brian Jagde

This brings me to the star of the show: the one and only Lise Davidsen. While Davidsen is known primarily for her Wagner roles, expectations were high for her Verdi debut at the Met. Many critics mistakenly asserted that her timbre would not be fit for the Italian style, but her performance last night proved these claims baseless. Indeed, it’s been a long time since I’ve been this impressed by a soprano. Her voice radiated through the theater like none I’ve ever heard before. Not only was her singing exceptional, but her acting was like something out of a movie — whenever she was on stage, all eyes gravitated towards her. Her Act 2 aria “Son giunta!” was reminiscent of Maria Callas in its expressivity, especially in the lines “In queste solitudini espierò l’errore. Pietà di me, Signore!” underlined by a rhythmic buildup in the pit. Her soft “Ah non m’abbandonar,” bringing back a theme from the overture, was soft and smooth, while the backstage Chorus of Monks, together with Davidsen’s voice, produced a harmony that left the audience awestruck. Her showstopper aria in Act 4, “Pace, pace, o mio dio,” opened with a beautiful crescendo from piano on “Pace,” followed by an immediate decrescendo back to rest, displaying her unmatched technique and aptitude for drama. The aria was perfectly balanced, sung with a soft desperation and despair right up until the final bars, with a dramatic buildup during the lines “Ma chi giunge? Chi profanare arisce il sacro loco?” and a powerful B-flat high note on the final “Maledizione!” after which the audience erupted into such a wild fit of applause that Davidsen could not help but break character with a smile.

The orchestra was on fire throughout the evening, especially the brass section, which stole the show during Verdi master Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s fiery interpretation of the overture. When the Met Orchestra plays with this much intensity, they can truly make magic. The organ passage towards the end of Act 2, followed by a gorgeous violin solo, was so beautifully played that it quite literally left me in tears. The same can be said for the clarinet solo that opens Act 3, a gorgeous passage that captures Alvaro’s strife. Needless to say, the chorus was phenomenal as well; in his final season with the Met, chorus master Donald Palumbo had the ensemble singing with unparalleled energy.

This Forza was an utter triumph. Gelb’s strategy of adding modern productions to the repertory has proven successful, while Lise Davidsen has shown herself to be exactly the diva that the Met needs.


My name is Alkis Karmpaliotis, I'm a Junior at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, and I founded in 2019 when I was 12 years old. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out some of my other articles and interviews!

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1 Yorum

The new Forza production at the Met is exceptional at all levels; superb singers with obvious chemistry as an ensemble on stage, innovative staging and production, an engaged orchestra and chorus at their peak artistry. This production would be highly appealing to both mature opera enthusiasts and also younger audiences. Kudos to the Met!

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