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Muddy goes to the opera

Whether you believe in free will or fate, there’s nothing fair in love or war in the Welsh National Opera’s production of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino

Loins girded for this epic tale of love, loss, and retribution of Verdi’s opera at the Bristol Hippodrome directed by David Pountney and set against a backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and the rise of fascism in pre-war Italy.

Photo Richard Hubert Smith

Following an accidental death, a complex chain reaction is set in motion that profoundly affects the lives of the opera’s three main characters. Star-crossed lovers, Leonora and Alvaro, are played with passion and sensitivity by Mary Elizabeth Williams and Gwyn Hughes Jones. They are about to elope, when they are discovered by Leonora’s father, who is shot accidentally with Alvaro’s pistol. Leonora’s brother Carlo, a man of zealous bigotry, refuses to believe their innocence, and relentlessly pursues them to redeem the family’s honour. Leonora and Alvaro are separated as they flee the scene – she to live in exile as a hermit, he to become a freedom fighter. Luis Cansino is devastatingly implacable as Don Carlo; unhearing and unpitying, he embodies the fascism and bigotry of pre-war Europe, pursuing his vendetta with a deadly, focused zeal as he searches for them over the course of many years.

Amid the grotesque turmoil of war, portrayed with flair and a certain gallows’ humour by the magnificent WNO chorus, Don Carlo and Alvaro are reunited (massive coincidence? no, it’s their destiny …). Justina Gringytė positively dazzles as Fate personified (her top hat and sequined tails reminiscent of Sally Bowles in Cabaret), initially in the form of Leonora’s maid, and then as a jingoistic, war-mongering camp follower. The lovers and their nemesis are reunited as the tragedy reaches its inevitably devastating finale, and Fate deals them their last cards.

The boldly theatrical staging makes sense of what could be a sprawling and confusing saga, while Carlo Rizzi’s mastery as conductor, the glory of the chorus, and the utter magnificence of the soloists combine in a passionate and resonant exploration of life and death in a world where nothing is certain.

Opera buffs: the Welsh National Opera are back at the Bristol Hippodrome in the Autumn with La Traviata Thurs 25 and Sat 27 Oct and with  La Cenerentola Fri 26 Oct.

CW (with borrowed Muddy opera glasses)

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