La Forza del Destino: An Emotional Production, in Many Ways

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From Seen and Heard International By: José Mª. Irurzun; Photo credit: Palau Arts – Tato Baeza

SpainSpain Verdi: La Forza del Destino, Chorus Generalitat Valenciana, Orchestra Comunitat Valenciana, Zubin Mehta (conductor), Palau de Les Arts, Valencia, 10.6.2014 (JMI)


Valencia’s Festival del Mediterráneo is presenting two operas, La Forza del Destino and Turandot, both conducted by Zubin Mehta. Because of the uncertainties in recent days about the future of Palau de Les Arts, these performances have been quite emotional: they could be the last appearances by the great conductor at Valencia. Just a few days ago Mr. Mehta declined an offer to take over the musical direction of the orchestra, which is a big blow for Palau de Les Arts. His decision follows the departure of Lorin Maazel a few years ago, and I wonder if any renowned conductor will be willing to accept the post, taking into account the problems that Palau is facing. One has to wonder what will be the future of this theater, where so so many nights of great opera have been enjoyed.
The performance of La Forza del Destino was superb: an imaginative stage production, a brilliant ? as well as emotional ? musical direction and a superb cast for the two main protagonists.
There is no doubt that the audience at La Forza del Destino wants Zubin Mehta to continue to appear in the pit here: the repeated and very warm ovations he received throughout the evening prove it. Clearly, a special communion exists between conductor and orchestra which always improves the results. Mr. Mehta exhibited the brilliance that we have seen time and again and there were breathtaking moments, especially at the end of the opera, but to my thinking he didn’t reach the exceptional depth he achieved in his last Walküre. This orchestra has been the best in Spain, and the problems affecting the Palau de Les Arts are also having consequences for musicians. Their performance was very good, although the sound did not seem as spectacular as at other times in the past. The choir also gave an excellent performance.
Gregory Kunde made his debut in the character of Don Alvaro, and he was truly outstanding. I cannot think of another tenor today ? except for Jonas Kaufmann ? who can compete with him in this role. The case of this great tenor is a curious one: his true success has come well past the age of 50, and he is now one of the artists most in demand at top opera houses for the main repertoire. Mr. Kunde’s voice is fresh, he has no problem with the high notes and he is always a great singer, never pushing but always singing in a most natural way. Who would have thought that the light tenor of some 25 years ago would develop into a true Verdi tenor, one of the few in the world!
Liudmyla Monastyrska was also making her debut in the part of Leonora, and she was very successful. She is a powerful soprano but is capable of singing piano when required. Her voice is comparable in size with those of Ghena Dimitrova or Maria Guleghina, but I find her to be the better singer. Her interpretarion was faultless, and she was at her very best in Pace, pace.
Simone Piazzola has a voice more or less appropriate to the character of Don Carlo di Vargas. I say more or less because at times I got the impression that he forced his voice to give more drama to his evil character. He seemed to me a little monotonous in his singing.
Bass Stephen Milling was also making his debut as Padre Guardiano. His singing seems to me better suited to Wagner than to Verdi, but overall his performance was fine.
Mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk was a kind of luxury in the part of Preziosilla, although I find this character rather boring.Somebody must have said to Valeriano Lanchas that the acoustics were not good because he decided to offer just decibels as Fra Melitone. In-Sung Sim left a positive impression as Marquis of Calatrava.
The production is a new one by Davide Livermore, who created an ingenious work, bringing the action into the 1940s and using projections allusive to the plot. Some of them were like a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock ? scenes from his movie The Birds. The sets are minimal with well-suited costumes and excellent lighting.
Palau de Les Arts was at about 85% of capacity. The audience was very warm during and at the close of the performance. At the final bows there were sound cheers for Gregory Kunde and Liudmylla Monastyrska and especially for Zubin Mehta.

Don Alvaro: Gregory Kunde
Leonora: Liudmylla Monastyrska
Don Carlo: Simone Piazzola
Padre Guardiana: Stephen Milling
Preziosilla: Ekaterina Semenchuk
Fra Melitone: Valeriano Lanchas
Marquis Calatrava: In-Sung Sim
Curra: Cristina Alunno
Major: Ventseslav Anastasov
Trabuco: Mario Cerdá
Surgeon: Aldo Heo

New production
Direction and sets: Davide Livermore
Costumes: Mariana Fracasso
Lighting: Antonio Castro

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ARS Vocalis Festival in Mexico – Carlos Zapién, Artistic Director

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Ars Vocalis Mexico is a festival devoted to the vocal arts with an important teaching component. Founded in 2011 in Zamora by Carlos Zapién, the festival presents operas and recitals given by international artist and students. The faculty includes such personalities as world-class tenor, Francisco Araiza (MET), countertenor Michael Chance OBE (Glyndebourne) and sensational tenor, Javier Camarena (MET).

Besides opera, Ars Vocalis provides opportunities to students in the diverse forms of vocal art such as: Liedklasse, Zarzuela, Baroque and Arias. Thanks to the academic program, AVM has placed Mexican students into institutes of higher education in the US and Europe and also has opened doors for the singers to perform at opera houses in Europe.

Tenor, Carlos Zapién, obtained his Masters in Music from the University of Oregon and holds the title of Soloist from the Musikhochschule Stuttgart. While in Germany, Zapién was a member of the Opera Studio of the Staatsoper Stuttgart. In 2013, he was appointed Director of Music of St.Augustine Cathedral in Tucson, Arizona. Currently, he is pursing a Doctor of Music Arts at the University of Arizona where he studies with Prof. Grayson Hirst.

Tenor Ks. Francisco Araiza giving a Liederabend, with works from Schumann, Beethoven, Strauss and mexican songs.

Noted countertenor Michael Chance, O.B.E. performing arias at a recital given in 2012 at the festival

Photo of the performance of Bastien und Bastienne, staged in 2012 and 2013, with language coach Robert Hiller (Germany) and with the support of the Michoacan University Chamber Orchestra

Scene from L’elisir d’amore, produced in 2012 with the direction of Rosalba Trevisan (La Fenice) and conductor Silvano Zabeo (assistant of Claudio Abbado)

Early music specialists, tenor Eric Mentzel (Sequentia) and lutenist August Denhard performing at the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Zamora.

Mezzosoprano Cassandra Zoe Velasco (Mexico), a member of the Young Artist Program of the Los Angeles Opera, performing a recital with works of Rossini, Mozart, Verdi.

Scene from La Cenerentola, in collaboration with the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in 2012

Mexican-american baritone Gerardo Garcíacano singing a Liederabend in 2011, a Beethoven and Mahler program

Opera Gala with singers selected to participate in the pedagogical component of the program. Tenor Humberto Borboa (Mexico) participated in the program and thanks to the contacts made with noted tenor/professor Grayson Hirst (USA) he was offered a scholarship to study at the University of Arizona. Photo with conductor

Tenor Javier Camarena (MEX) performing arias from Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini and mexican songs. 2012

Mezzosoprano Ks. Dunja Vejzovic (Croacia) working with a mexican student. 2011

Soprano Shirley Close (Florida State University) and pianist Valerie Trujillo giving a recitals with arias and songs. 2011

Soprano Shirley Close (Florida State University) and pianist Valerie Trujillo giving a recitals with arias and songs. 2011

Concert version of Rinaldo, with director Claudio Rizzi (Italia)

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U of AZ’s Opera Theater Puts Some Magic in Mozart’s ‘Flute’

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The University of Arizona’s Opera Theater took a giant step with its production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.*  Everything about the production was on a grander scale than in previous years. However, the artistic foundation on which David Ward, the school’s new opera director, was able to mount such a clever and funny rendition of Mozart’s fairy-tale, had been built on the hard work and talent of its longtime director Charles Roe. In this way, Ward and his merry band of players were able to take full advantage of the school’s resources and mount a production that showed off Ward’s own theatrical talent with savvy and panache. And the double cast of singers were just about on an even keel vocally, which demonstrated the university’s ability to attract more students than ever before to its vocal curriculum.

To start with, set designer Sally Day’s floor-to-ceiling gray slabs, jaggedly textured, were easily turned around to show the entrance to Sarastro’s temple, giving the look of a primitive eastern culture. How Ms. Day got those large pieces to move without a sound may be for us to ponder, but the result was an artistic wonder.

Christopher Allen’s costumes were a crazy mixture of styles and colors that added so much to the overall delight of the production. It is worth mentioning the following: Papagano’s feathered headpiece; the long, dark-red dresses for the Three Ladies; and, best of all, the black full-length skirt for Queen of the Night, with her bright red hair topped with an outrageous three-tiered tiara. There were teased blond wigs, all puffy, with twinkling lights on the Ladies trio and the three spirits that made you chuckle. Still, the blond wigs selected for Pamina, the Queen’s daughter, were not visually appealing and, for one Pamina, ill-suited.

Music Director Thomas Cockrell and Ward made the decision that all the musical parts would be sung in German, with the intermittent dialogues in English, making the opera a Singspiel as designated by Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder. There were times when the students’ spoken dialogue did not match their vocal abilities, forging an uneven delivery of the English text. But Cockrell and Ward are to be congratulated for not forcing the students to pretend they had acting chops that they did not possess. And there were times when this approach allowed the singers to relax and present themselves in a natural manner.

There were a number of good vocal performances from the two casts as well as those who presented interesting characterizations. Both Paminas were prepared vocally and acting-wise in showing what a trial is was to be Queen of the Night’s daughter. Yunnie Park sang with a smoother lyrical line than Kelsey Rogers, but Rogers’s line delivery was first-rate.  Brian McNiff’s Prince Tamino was more attentive to his fellow performers than James Austin, but Austin’s vocal line was closer to what Mozart wanted from his “hero.” Dori Marie Smith’s Queen had a solid vocal line up-and-down the scale along with a good dramatic feel for the role. Michelle Perrier hit all the notes as well, but her limited stage experience shown through now and then.

Both trios comprising the Ladies who attended to the Queen’s demands sang with vocal security and fulfilled their courtly duties with great humor. And as Monostatos, the nasty, but lame lecher of Pamina, Brandon Dale used his big physique and his strong tenor to show the character’s silly side as well. If Olman Alfaro’s Monostatos was smaller in physical size, he was able to vocally fill the role with humor and show the daffy body movements that Ward had designed for this slightly deranged character.

For the comic sets of lovers, Alejandro Bañuelos and Jonathan Kim brought out the lovable and frivolous side of Papagano and Leah Williams and Mary Keck as Papagana, did as well. If Bañuelos was more outgoing and demonstrative in his frustration with having to go through the trials with Tamino, Kim was a bit more understated, but still projected Papagano’s comical exasperation at Tamino’s royal demands.

The School of Music had to go outside of the student roster of singers to find a bass to sing the mature vocal lines needed for Sarastro, the High Priest of Isis. Arizeder Urreiztieta expressed the regal and pontifical side of the priest’s demeanor, but was short vocally on the full resonance that Mozart’s stately music required.

Instead of using boy sopranos and altos for the Three Spirits who guide Pamina and Tamino through the ordeals Sarastro has set out for them, Ward gave the parts to the school’s sopranos and altos in order to increase student participation in the production. Doubly cast, the women were fitted into one dress, Ward’s takeoff on the silly side of the Disco craze.  A definite plus to the production was Jonathan Kim’s chorus that intoned the beautiful harmonies that run through Mozart’s choral scenes.

Cockrell conducted the Arizona Symphony Orchestra with all the care and attention to detail that the composer’s intricate musical charts demand. And the way Cockrell led his forces to come in at the exact moment the English dialogue segued into the sung German text was just one example of how much care he and Ward gave in staging what many critics and fans consider Mozart’s operatic masterpiece.


* See The Magic Flute-Wikipedia





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