DramaOperaReviewSouth West

La Forza del Destino – Bristol Hippodrome

Director: David Pountney

Conductor: Carlo Rizzi

Set designer: Raymond Bauer

Reviewer: Julia Beasley

The force of destiny is not in Leonora’s favour. Against her father’s wishes, she plans to elope with a freedom fighter. It all goes wrong when he accidentally kills her dad. Her brother vows to avenge his father’s death. Leonora runs away and becomes a hermit. The brother and the lover meet in battle. Somehow, you just know this isn’t going to end well for anyone.

Verdi’s opera concerns a cast of obsessive characters in settings ranging from a monastery to the battlefields of war-torn Europe. It involves doomed love, mistaken identities, a bleeding wall and several tragic and untimely deaths.

The title may or may not be ironic: how much of our downfall can we blame on our stars? You might think that the characters in La Forza del Destino have exercised free will and made some poor choices in life. But Leonora’s lover protests: ‘It wasn’t me but destiny that killed your father’.

The refrains are lovely (including a familiar melody from the Stella Artois advertisements). The superb cast is led by Mary Elizabeth William as Leonora, who displays a remarkable vocal strength and range. The orchestra deserves its standing ovation. In musical terms, this is a fine production of a difficult opera that is not often given an airing.

The problem for the audience is that La Forza is unforgiving in its portrayal of a bleak, brutal and bloody world. There are no laughs and nothing by way of relief. This production tries to lighten the load with a potpourri of effects including incessant set-flipping, a host of circus characters, a procession of cardinals, a fascist army and a surreal puppetry interlude on the horrors of war.

‘In the end, it’s madness that keeps our spirits up’ says the chorus. ‘Hurrah for madness.’ You can’t help but agree that it’s all a bit potty. In the end, it’s best to just feel the force of the sublime music and song.

Reviewed on 14 April 2018 | Image: Richard Hubert

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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