The San Francisco Opera's new production of Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" is ending this Saturday, the 27th, and all the bloody flagellants...
...along with the proto-KKK penitents will soon be no more.
The second scene, set at an outdoor tavern in Spain in the mid-1880s, involves the most people, supernumeraries and choristers both onstage and off.
Scores of folk wait in the wings while the ill-starred principals start the miserable chain of events in the first scene that culminates in almost everyone's tragic death four hours later.
Tom Reed, a longtime opera chorister, and a brilliantly funny writer, has written a synopsis of the opera that includes absurdities from the plot and the new production which he entitles "La Forza del Schizophrenia."
Here's his description of the first scene:
Act I Scene 1 - In the household of the Marchese of Calatrava
Leonora has been dating Don Alvaro, but her father, the Marchese, says he's not going to let his daughter marry a lowlife. Alvaro shows up intending to elope with her, and it all goes well, except for one little glitch when he accidentally shoots Leonora's father dead.
Backstage gets a bit spooky waiting for everyone to go on...
...with flagellants in sheer, bloody robes carrying monster crosses around...
...along with penitents in heavy red robes that include long trains to trip over, and red light sabers that are straight out of "Star Wars."
The reaction to the production has been pretty uniform. Everyone loves the young conductor, Nicola Luissoti, and is ambivalent about the strong-voiced principal singers.
The set and costume design has been almost universally hated, with its bizarre anachronisms and deliberate lack of color, two features which seem to be part of outgoing general manager Pamela Rosenberg's Germanic style.
Tom Reed's brilliant fractured fairy tales synopsis continues:
Scene 2 - An inn, Hornacuelos, Spain
On the lam disguised as travelers, Alvaro and Leonora are greeted by the local chorus. By the time Verdi wrote Forza, Italian audiences were getting really good at following his convoluted plots, so this time Verdi decided to trip them up by introducing the concept of multiple personality disorder.
Apparently quite accustomed to multiple personalities, the choristers greet the guests by singing "hello" not once, but dozens of times. Everyone sits down to dinner. Don Carlo is there, but he is no longer Leonora's brother. He is now Pereda, a student searching for the killer of Carlo's father. This might seem odd, but in a town where villagers happily dine on bowls of imaginary soup, anything goes.
Suddenly the fortune teller Preziosilla, who is dressed as a lobster, jumps up on the table and announces that war has broken out. Overjoyed, the townsfolk can't wait to try out their new machine guns - very advanced weaponry for the mid-1800s. The revelry is interrupted by the arrival of pilgrims stumbling blindly across the oddly slanted stage with bags over their heads, dragging huge crosses and light sabers. Under the cover of some gratuitous religious music, choristers collect the disoriented penitents and point the poor souls back to their dressing rooms. The merriment resumes with Pereda telling the story of his entire life. It takes just two minutes. As the villagers pretend to understand whatever it is he's babbling about, Preziosilla begins to suspect that he might be another multiple. Finally the Alcade sends everyone home, touching off another long round of hellos and goodbyes.
To read the entire piece, click here.