Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

Verdi’s The Force of Destiny was first performed in Russia in 1862. Italian singers have thought the opera ‘cursed’. The great Pavarotti never played the part of Alvaro for this reason.

Mark Thompson’s sumptuous production for Opera Australia drips with the macabre presence of death. The opera opens with the chorus draped in black veils holding masks in the shape of skulls to cover their faces. Likewise a huge human skull takes centre stage, creating a focal point for this production.

The overture that heralds the beginning of this opera is evocative, but it is the prayer at the end of Act 2, The Virgin of the Angels, sung by Leonora (Svetla Vassilleva) which is the most memorable scene.  Set to a backdrop of candles, it is both striking and beautiful.

Destiny and fate play a major role in this opera. Fortune teller Preziosilla, played by Rinat Shaham, is a beautiful force for evil and on stage for almost the entire length of the opera causing destruction wherever she goes. Shaham last delighted audiences as Carmen in Opera Australia’s Handa Opera on the Harbour. The Force of Destiny is her Verdi debut.

The opera follows the story of Don Alvaro (Riccardo Massi) and his ill-fated love for Leonora. After accidently killing Leonora’s father, he escapes with Leonora only to be pursued by her brother who wants revenge for the death of his father. As they flee Don Alvaro and Leonora become parted.

Don Alvaro goes on to become a war hero, whilst Leonora, haunted by guilt, lives the life of a hermit, relying on food provided by a local monastery. Preziosilla follows them both laughing in the face of injustice.

As fate would have it, the long lost lovers meet once again, but it is a tragic and fateful meeting.

The cast includes Opera Australia favourites Jonathan Summers as the vengeful brother Don Carlos di Vargas and Warwick Fife as Fra Melitone. The performance runs for approximately four hours with two intervals.

Attention has been given to the staging of this production with exquisitely detailed costumes and fabulous stage setting. To top it off Svetla Vassilleva shines through this tragic dark tale as she pours out her soul with brilliance.

This review is of the final dress rehearsal.

The Force of Destiny opens at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday June 29 and runs until July 23.

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