After I had the luck to see my beloved Juan Diego in Vienna, in Don Pasquale, I went to Munich to see La forza del destino, with Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann (that’s what I call a good weekend).
Harteros confirms her status of best Verdian singer around. Her voice swells like a hot air balloon and then overflows onto the audience with honey. She has everything: perfect legato, strong high notes, dark timbre, emotional depth, careful details in the recitativi, she own the stage, she’s beautiful and charismatic, as soon as I find her a fault I’ll let you know. Oh, yes, she’s a bit too tall for Kaufmann, but that’s more one of Kaufmann’s faults than her own.
Kaufmann’s voice is strange. I very well understand people who are not convinced by it, who feel it’s too much like a baritone’s, and too bleak, but, in my opinion, his dark voice gives an emotional depth to the characters which sometimes is lacking in more traditional tenors. And then, when such a dark and big voice raises up, and fills up the theatre with one of his wonderful high notes, full, never coarse or vulgar, and NEVER nasal, it’s a feat: it’s like watching an American football defense player do a pirouette on his toes, it’s like watching Mohammed Ali fight. Power and elegance. I had heard him in Don Carlo, in London, and his voice didn’t sound strong enough to me, but I had the feeling that it was more his interpretation of Carlo as a weak and confused character, than a defect of his voice. And I was right: in this Forza del Destino he was strong and commanding, what a voice! Go listen to him and let me know!
The mise en scene was insane, albeit not one of the worst I’ve seen. La Forza del Destino has a very stretched plot, but very ingrained in the eighteenth century: who, in our day and age would take the cloth to avoid his misfortune, or become a hermit, it just doesn’t work. And instead (obviously) modern day clothes; the inn of the second act turned into kind of a devastated World Trade Center, the cave where Leonora becomes a hermit made up of a bunch of gigantic crosses one over the other, a mess. The direction itself was not too bad: the characters moved around and acted in a reasonable way.
Preziosilla was an embarrassing Nadia Krasteva, from Bulgaria, an obviously Slavic voice “broken” in two very different parts: a coarse, ugly chest voice with little or no support, and a very metallic head voice, which sounded like it came out of a long metal tube. The two voices were connected by something that we cannot call a “passaggio”: rather a steep ravine where our heroin rambled down, or climbed up with great effort, depending if the melody was going up or down. I actually booed her, with great dismay of the German audience.
The same singer, Vitalij Kowaljow, sang both the Calatrava Marchese (Leonora’s father, killed by Alvaro), and Padre Guardiano, the head of the monastery where both Alvaro and Leonora, independently, seek asylum. This is more or less normal (that one singer sings two parts), what is not very normal is that he had exactly the same costume for both characters. I understand, they wanted to hint that Leonora, after the death of her father, finds a fatherly figure in this Padre Guardiano, but it was a bit ridiculous. The voice was very very good, good timbre and good technique.
Don Carlo di Vargas, Leonora’s brother, who tries to find the two lovers to avenge his father’s death, was Simone Piazzola. Bah. I don’t know, I wasn’t very convinced, but I can’t say why. Maybe he just lacks charisma, because his voice was not bad, after all.
Special mention for Ambrogio Maestri, who, in the buffo part of Fra Melitone, charmed the audience, who loved him. He’s a Falstaff specialist, and he has a perfect voice for the buffo bass-baritone.
The orchestra in Munich, who I hadn’t much liked in other occasions (I found them cold) did instead manage to warm my heart. I don’t know if it’s because of Maestro Asher Fisch, a pupil of Barenboim’s, or maybe they do Verdi better than Rossini, but in any case the sound was remarkable, with wonderful details, in the overture in particular.