A logical coincidence: in immediate contrast two great Giuseppe Verdi operas were to be seen: "Rigoletto" at the Avenida started Buenos Aires Lírica´s season, and the Colón presented, after 27 years of silence, "La Forza del Destino". Logical, because no other Italian author has produced such a number of operas that have stayed in the repertoire. And in fact, in a couple of weeks the Roma (Avellaneda) will present a concert version of "Attila". I will only refer this time to "Forza".
I am zero superstitious, which makes me a "rara avis". But if you are a believer, you surely know that "Forza" is the "unnameable" and that opera lovers will mention facts such as the death on stage of baritone Leonard Warren as an example of the bad luck this particular piece is supposed to have. Well, I´ve seen six performances prior to the current ones and I´m still alive.
I remember a few years back an estimable peroduction of "Forza" presented by Adelaida Negri, but otherwise I believe it hasn´t been seen in BA since 1985, a long time for an opera that has its flaws but whose best moments are up there in the pantheon of greatness. I won´t deny that the tremendous Romantic drama by the Duke of Rivas has aged ("Don Álvaro o La fuerza del sino") but I rather agree with Menéndez y Pelayo that it is "immense as human life...with a fatality that isn´t Greek but Spanish and that drives the principal character along with somber beauty". However, what Azorín says is also true: "incoherence or irregularity, superficial and talky". Nevertheless, when Verdi received a succulent contract from Saint Petersburg, this is the subject he chose, and the initial libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave. This first 1862 version was truer to Rivas´ truculence, and at the end Alvaro, after the deaths of Leonora and her brother, commits suicide (try to see the Maryinsky DVD of this initial "Forza", rarely staged nowadays). By the time he provided a second and definitive version in 1869, not only the end had changed, now Alvaro remains alive, but the famous Overture has been added and many other details have been modified. The libretto had addenda and corrigenda by Ghislanzoni, and one scene is based on "Wallenstein´s Camp" by Schiller, for this is the mysterious war alluded to against the "Tedeschi".
The locales are a house in Seville, a tavern at Hornachuelos (a village close to Córdoba), a convent near it and a grotto close to the convent, and a camp near the Italian city of Velletri, close to Rome. Although the composer was anticlerical, the treatment of religion is very traditional in "Forza", very far from the condemnation of the Inquisition in "Don Carlo". And there´s the politically incorrect apology of war, as well as Melitone (a buffo baritone) thundering against the sins of the "pezzenti" (beggars). What is now generally felt to be incongruous -the free mixture of drama and comedy- is very much a feature wanted by Verdi, who introduced the "Rataplan" ending the Third Act with Preziosilla (a gypsy fortune-teller) and the choir. And also the opera structured in contrasting tableaux, an idea that probably influenced Mussorgsky in his "Boris Godunov". So you have the sublime and the trivial inextricably mixed, and you may dislike some bits (I do), but any opera that has at least 90 minutes of great music is basic repertoire. In it Spanish honor is basic and blind to any flexibility (as in "Ernani"), and there´s a strange reference to the Inca lineage of Alvaro ("indiano").
As I feel that an evaluation of the opera was necessary after such a long time without it, I´m left with reduced space for this particular revival, but as there are two casts I will write again about it two weeks from now. First, I was angry at an arbitrary and wholly unnecessary displacement of the Overture, played after Act I instead of before (that´s why it´s an overture!). Two years ago the Colón was reopened with "La Boheme"; Renato Palumbo was the conductor and Hugo De Ana fully in charge as producer and stage, costume and lighting designer. Now we had the same combination; are they a team or is it a coincidence? Palumbo did a good, workmanlike job, with a well-playing orchestra, and the Colón Choir was proficient, although I think its conductor Peter Burian overdid the "pianissimi". I will leave comments on De Ana for next time, only advancing that I found it controversial but interesting.
This first cast brought several debuts. That of Greek soprano Dimitra Theodossiou, who certainly knows the style but has too much vibrato; however, she was affecting, especially in the last act. The tenor was the Russian Mikhail Agafonov and he was a pleasant surprise; he can´t compete with the local memories of Tucker, Domingo and Giacomini, but he showed a frank emission with good highs and center, musicality and decent Italian, as well as correct acting. The baritone Luca Salsi lacks a distinctive timbre; however, he sings clearly and moves with conviction. And bass Roberto Scandiuzzi sang with authority and a slightly frayed voice a noble Guardian.
Agnes Zwierko was very disinvolt as Preziosilla but she´s more a contralto than a mezzo and the highs gave her trouble. Luis Gaeta offered a first-rate Melitone, funny with no exaggeration and finely sung. In flank roles Fernando Radó and Guadalupe Barrientos were outstanding, and the others quite good: Fernando Chalabe (deprived, as Trabucco, of a two-minute scene, only and silly cut of the evening), Leonardo Estévez and Gustavo Feulien.