Ray

Washington National Opera's Forza del Destino

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Just saw Verdi's La Forza del Destino in DC yesterday. I loved the production, directed by Francesca Zambello; others, no doubt, will have different opinions. Whatever you might think of Zambello's directing, though, one thing is crystal clear: if there is a will to engage a diverse cast and artistic team, it can be done. The Met--and ballet companies worldwide--should take note and put their money where their mouths are.

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I'm not likely to see this -- can you tell us a bit more about the production?

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The opera is set in an unspecified present; the rustic Spanish inn is replaced by a gritty Asian-esque greasy spoon set within a warren of shipping containers, with neon signs for "sex shops" and the like, and sexy pole-dancers. The containers also become, cleverly, monks' cells later in the opera. There are several added scenes where action is carried out w/out voices (always a little funny in opera, I think, a form in which people sing on their deathbeds), and lots of contemporary references to the urban poor. Zambello also decided to place the prologue before the famous overture (I'm not enough of a Verdi aficionado to appreciate the significance of that; it seemed to me to make sense); she overlaid action onto the overture as well. What I think is most notable about Zambello's productions are her very diverse casts and crews. Even the conductor was an Asian woman, Xian Zhang. If you don't know, Zambello's (almost) all-black production of Aida and other works at Glimmerglass last summer (2012) sparked discussion in the press about diversity in casting. (Tommasini wrote a piece about it in the NY Times, I think.)

The current Forza wasn't a perfect production vocally, by any means. And as a dance person, I am not into her longtime choreographic collaborator, Eric Sean Fogel, whose choreography looks very conventional to me. But, again, I applaud Zambello's willingness to put teeth into what for others is mostly empty talk about "inclusion."

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The current Forza wasn't a perfect production vocally, by any means.

Anne Midgette In the Washington Post is scathing about the two leads:

no production can hope to work very well if the singing is terrible

But I’m not sure anything short of a sledgehammer could have stopped Delavan and Monsalve from shouting and blustering their way through the evening. Delavan blustered with the best intentions in the world, putting his heart into his work; Monsalve did so in the time-honored, hell-with-the-rest-of-’em, haul-off-and-aim-for-the-high-notes tradition of bad Italian tenors. The effect they made was equally underwhelming, especially when they combined in “Amici in vita e in morte,” which is supposed to be a duet, and is ostensibly comprised of notes that are set on a staff in a certain order, but on Saturday was simply a sustained blast of two unblending sounds, as if two vacuum cleaners were duking it out for supremacy.

And people say that a certain NY dance critic is tough . . .

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I don't disagree--those two guys were a low point in the evening, that's for sure, and the Leonora too was not quite up to it, though she really did inhabit the part with a welcome physicality. I do disagree, however, with the critic on the conductor.

Still, it was miles more enjoyable to watch than a poorly cast production of Don Quixote.

I also am glad the critic singled out some of the diverse junior members of the cast, who are members of the WNO's very diverse young-artist program:

"Soloman Howard sounding fantastic as Alcade, and Deborah Nansteel making herself heard in the tiny part of Leonora’s maid, plus Valeriano Lanchas, an alumnus of the program, as a resonant Melitone"

Howard, especially, is an amazing bass-baritone. A talent to watch!

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Thanks for the description -- I'm interested in seeing how shipping containers are becoming a blank slate for all kinds of projects. (there's a Starbucks coffee shop made from a container here in Seattle)

On a more opera-centric topic, thanks as well for pointing out the young artists alumni. Seattle Opera had to suspend its own program, and we are all very sad around here.

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