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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Forza del Destino - Opera in four acts (revised version, 1869)
Ziyan Atfeh - Il Marchese di Calatrava; Dimitra Theodossiou - Donna Leonora; Vladimir Stoyanov - Don Carlo di Vargas; Aquiles Machado - Don Alvaro; Mariana Pentcheva - Preziosilla; Roberto Scandiuzzi - Padre; Carlo Lepore - Fra Melitone
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Parma/Gianluigi Gelmetti
rec. Teatro Regio di Parma, Italy, 2-5 February 2011
Sound Format: PCM Stereo; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround; Picture Format: 16:9, 1080i; Region: ABC: Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
Reviewed in surround.
C MAJOR 724504 [178.00 + 11.00]

This is part of the Tutto Verdi series being issued by C Major, in conjunction with Unitel Classica. Be warned that the unavoidable on-disc clip for the series uses an extract from La Traviata as soundtrack. Do not be misled! As part of Tutto Verdi the disc includes a very useful bonus in the form of a short foreword to the opera and the history of its composition. It introduces the characters as well as telling the story via short clips from the performance. This is available with either Italian or English narration. Whoever thought of this, well done! The menu for the opera and the separate acts is only accessed after selecting 'Play Opera'. Not very intuitive. Why not put this at top level? The booklet includes a good, short essay but a summarised libretto that manages to not mention some scenes even though they are all detailed in the track-listing. The playback defaults are surround - for a change - and no subtitles. Having got all this out of the way we go to audience noise for the opening titles, very good.
 
Before moving on to the production a word about the audio recording. It has become quite noticeable on several recent discs that as a result of live recording conditions all singers are miked up. This means that their stage movements, obvious in the picture, are not reflected on the audio. A singer moving left or right across the stage stays firmly anchored to the centre along with all other members of the cast where the post-production team placed them. Only the chorus and orchestra are spread across because they are not individually miked. Considering we have had over fifty years of stereo recording of opera with some attempt at stage movement this seems like a step backwards. I can only surmise that it is simply too difficult or uneconomic to pan the sound for each individual and much easier to guarantee singer clarity on the recording by adopting this approach. I have recordings made live at Bayreuth in 1955 where the sound is more realistic than this modern process allows and the great Decca/Culshaw Sonic Stage technique resulted in many historic and extremely spacious opera recordings in the 1960s. Watching a screen does take the ear away from such matters and in the video picture as opposed to the stage picture, the key singers are nearly always central. It would be interesting to know what the companies have to say about this. That said, this issue sounds and looks very good as do virtually all modern Blu-ray recordings.
 
La Forza del Destino is a curious opera in that the libretto is more than usually convoluted and the 'destiny' of the title comes over as a series of bizarre coincidences. There are even scenes that don't really have anything to do with the plot. This makes the producer's job more important in aiding the audience to follow what is going on. However, we live in an age of regietheater. Stefano Poda, in charge of direction, choreography and costumes has opted for a multi-purpose stage that moves into different arrangements for the different scenes. In Verdi's libretto the scenes are quite varied, Act 1 is in Leonora's room, Act 2 in a village inn and outside a monastery, Act 3 a battlefield, and so on. What we see is a stage full of impressively large interlocking dark blocks, which are moved around for the different scenes. On that stage are a cast clad in black and hard to distinguish, to the extent that the two female leads look like identical twins. So we have black stage with a cast in black, you see where this is going. We know they are all doomed, that is for sure! Cast movements are as geometrical as the scenery so there is an air of puppets controlled by 'destiny'.
 
The 1st Act is sung with more gusto than subtlety, but for a live performance - derived from two evenings - it is certainly good enough to enjoy and most of the opera is better sung. It is the blackness that disturbs. Act 2 opens with a setting that is bewilderingly hard to understand. It is in the libretto as the muleteers dancing but this is not how it looks. Preziosilla's black dress looks so similar to Leonora's that I can only assume this was part of the director's intention - both singers are physically similar too which does nothing to clarify things. In Act 3 the opening is dominated by a large black globe which Alvaro sets to swing like a giant pendulum. Short of any directorial explanation this made no sense to me. The confrontation between Alvaro and Carlo takes place against a background of what appears to be a pile of dead bodies but at the start of the final scene they rise to their feet and become a very alive army. During the course of the remaining action they fall and rise and fall again - all very confusing. The singing of all this is good except for a rather wobbly Preziosilla. Act 4 starts with the same black-dressed chorus on a black set save that for this act no one is bloodstained. For a plot this complex something should have been done to help the audience. Apparently it was well received in Parma - the on-disc applause is prolonged but seems to me muted. A decent enough performance in good sound and video but there are better Blu-ray discs of La Forza, for example that by Mehta at Florence.
 
Dave Billinge 

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