The force of Piave and Verdi's La Forza del Destino is strong enough to survive mutilation at Verdi's own hand (with Ghislanzoni, this time); given enough sonic meat on the bones of its score, it can survive all sorts of performance follies as well. So the current Met revival, which premiered last night, offers a thorougly mixed bag in its parts but still packs a serious dramatic punch.
Best, perhaps, are the singers. Deborah Voigt's new voice may frustrate those expecting the previous version, but it serves her well as Leonora. The lighter, more liquid middle moves easily through the part, and if the top shows more vibrato than it's done, it well suits the desperation of her character. When called for -- "La Vergine degli Angeli", the start of "Pace, pace" -- the pure version of the Voigt sound still appears. Combined with her new physical ease, this is Voigt's first post-surgical role triumph.
Her tenor partner, Salvatore Licitra, provided both good and bad. The first act brought a congested, uneasy sound that had me worrying that this uneven tenor was on one of his very poor nights. But the problem cleared as the evening went on (though it lingered in some high notes), and he eventually delivered the easy large sound and natural feel for the role that made such a huge impression at the Carnegie Hall concert Forza some years ago. (For the quantitatively inclined, I might put this performance, on the whole, at about 80-85% of that one...) Perhaps he's recovering from illness and will show full form later in the run.
Mark Delavan is such a natural fit for the character of Carlo di Vargas that it seems nitpicky to note that the part asks for more agility than his voice really has. Padre Guardiano, too, finds an excellent exponent in the late-career (but sounding quite good) Sam Ramey, as does the more comic priest Melitone in Juan Pons. (Pons -- also impressive of late in Aida -- seems liberated in Verdi's character parts; as Rigoletto and Falstaff, he was overwhelmed.) Lyric mezzo Ildikó Komlósi, as Preziosilla, shows good rhythmic sense but lacks the lower- and middle-voice force to make a real impression.
As impressive as any of these excellent sung performances was the solo playing of clarinetist Steve Williamson and some of his Met Orchestra colleagues. Credit to conductor Gianandrea Noseda for giving them the room to phrase. But though the Italian-born Gergiev protege gets this and many other details of sound and phrase right, his episodic, helter-skelter approach to the whole nearly undermines the performance. Crowd scenes lack the rambunctious energy and momentum -- is he embarrassed by them, or has there just been insufficient rehearsal? -- they need to offset and contrast the tragic solo bits. And he lets Leonora's monastery scene -- the heart of the opera -- sag badly, leaking energy at every pause and working against (not for) her progression from barely articulate desperation through the stirrings of hope (and regular rhythm) via Guardiano to frenzied, ecstatic relief.
Meanwhile Giancarlo del Monaco's sets -- and stage mechanics -- are showing their age. About the only interesting feature is the saints depicted in the monastery courtyard, while stage hands quite audibly intrude on the action a few times. The lighting, too, could be adjusted up some lumens.
But Verdi's masterpiece works on such a powerful, elemental level that all such problems are missed opportunities, not fatal flaws. The revival is moving, and very much worth seeing -- and hearing. Just don't expect a Marinuzzi (or, indeed, Levine) in the pit.
(Some words about the opera's endings, its "plausibility", and so on to follow in another post.)