Metropolitan Opera 2023-24 Review: La Forza del Destino

Brian Jagde Gives an Outstanding Performance in Mariusz Trelinski War-Torn Production

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Karen Almond)

It’s been a long time since “La Forza del Destino” got a chance on the Met stage. To be exact, it’s been about 18 years. Back then, in 2006, the Verdi melodrama was presented in an imposing traditionally-set production with a cast of Italianate voices. It was supposed to return a decade later in a new production by Calixto Bieito, but was canceled in 2017 due to financial struggles.

Jump forward seven years and the Met still has financial struggles (arguably bigger ones), as we are constantly reminded by its General Manager Peter Gelb, and they essentially taint all artistic decisions made by the company. Just a few weeks back, these hardships led to the organization taking out $40 million from its endowment. Productions of operas were canceled when the recent announcement for 2024-25 was made. Ticket sales seemed to be not quite on par with what was expected, forcing pivots in future seasons on strategies that were announced less than a year ago. Moreover, recent investments in new productions, like “Carmen,” led to questionable artistic success.

Which is why something like “Forza” has so many stakes attached to it. It’s an opera that’s rarely performed and the likelihood that this production gets more than one revival is scant. So if you’re going to invest millions of dollars during a difficult economic situation, it better be the best production of all time to merit its existence.

As is often the case with artistic decisions made under the Peter Gelb regime, the result unfortunately doesn’t match up to the fated investment.

The Forces 

Before I get into the disappointing elements of the evening, I have to mention Brian Jagde. The tenor has come into his own at the Met as one of the company’s leading tenors. It’s hard not to see why as he has a strong tenor voice that can emit incredible sound into the cavernous space with great Italian diction necessary for these heavier spinto roles.

While his opening duet with Lise Davidsen was unsteady and featured a lack of chemistry, it was in Act three that we finally saw the tenor give the best performance of the evening.

As the Act three curtain opened, his Alvaro was weak and melancholic. His opening lines, “La vita e inferno all infelice,” were sung with a brash tone that accented the character’s depressed state. While the opening of his “O tu che seno agli angeli” lacked the usual nuance and piano sound that may have provided some dynamic contrast, he made up for it with rousing high notes and an expressive tone, especially during his “Leonora mia, soccorrimi, Pietà del mio penar! Pietà di me!” Each repetition gained in intensity. The performance was rewarded with a well-deserved applause.

The first duet with Igor Golavatenko, “Solenne in quest’ora” was sung with expressive and gorgeously extended notes, while the second duet “No, d’un imene il vincolo,” saw Jagde deliver with ease during the legato lines. Each “Tacete!” gained greater potency with forceful staccato line and accent phrasing. It all climaxed in “Morte! Sì! Col brando mio” where Jagde was thunderous in his delivery. The final note on “L’oblio, la pace chiegga il guerrier,” was imbued with resolve and a ringing tone that showcased the pain of his Alvaro.

In Act four, “Le minaccie, i fieri accenti,” there was a grainier sound that showcased a new character worn down by the interceding years. As he sang his repeated “pietà,” each one gained more weight. The “Sulla terra l’ho adorata,” saw some of the most beautiful singing of the evening, delivered with powerful abandon. It was a shame that orchestral playing was not supporting the intensity that the tenor was giving, limiting his impact.

The final section “Ah! Vieni a morte,” saw Jagde extend his final note with tremendous vigor. Then in the final trio Jagde gave us a glimpse at his most subtle singing, delivering a lighter sound but with the same expressive pull that we saw throughout the evening.

Bass Soloman Howard also had a good evening, even if sometimes his voice thinned out. We saw this during the Act two duet during “Sull’alba il piede all’eremo,” as well as during the monk chorus “Il santo nome di Dio Signore” where his low notes sounded overpowered. But all those little qualms aside, his bass had a lovely sound that was well-suited to the legato writing that Verdi requires, especially in the opening of the duet “Or siam soli Leonora di Vargas.”

His duet with Melitone in Act four, saw Howard’s voice resonate with power and flexibility, while in the final trio, “Non imprecare; umiliati,” the bass demonstrated strength and a commanding timbre as he spun the opening lines and his ensuing legato phrases with tenderness and resolve.

For years Patrick Carfizzi has been singing numerous comic roles at the Met. On this evening he was finally able to shine in the role of Fra Melitone. It was however such a shame to see his Act three entrance cut and lose a very important part of his character arc. But when he was on stage, he was a shining light that provided comic timing with clear diction.

In his Act four solo, “Oh, andatene in malora” and “Carità, con costoro,” Carfizzi displayed precise staccato phrases and virtuosic patter. In the cabaletta portion,”Il resto, a voi prendetevi,” the bass-baritone also imbued immaculate articulation and precise diction, making it impossible not to laugh at the character. His ensuing duet with Howard also showcased Melitone’s absurdity as he contrasted well with Howard’s booming bass.

In the role of Trabucco, Carlo Bosi sang his Act three aria with humorous timing and brightness of sound.

Karen Almond

Not Fated for Verdi?

At the core of the Met Opera’s marketing campaign for this production were two figures – Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Lise Davidsen. For Davidsen, this was her first Verdi (and Italian) role at the hallowed house. For Nézet-Séguin, a chance to redeem previous questionable forays into repertory that doesn’t seem to suit him in the least.

On this night, neither one seemed to match up to the famed Italian’s intense music.

Over the years Davidsen has become a Met favorite, performing Tchaikovsky, Strauss, and Wagner, and she has made quite a splash. Her “Ariadne” was a star-making turn and Eva in “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” solidified her as a great soprano in the Germanic repertoire. But the Italian repertory is a different animal altogether and Verdi is perhaps the most complex of all, bridging the gap between the long legato lines of Bel Canto and the more naturalistic lyricism of Verismo. It’s in this boundary where “Forza” lies with its mixture of its main melodramatic family plot and its more naturalistic scene-setting of the looming war. Leonora rarely bridges the gap herself, save for one instance, her music is more in line with the opera’s Bel Canto writing. So fluid legato singing is primordial to any Leonora interpreter.

But throughout the evening, Davidsen sang with choppy phrasing and inconsistent legato lines. There was rarely any build. Random accents at the end of long lines plagued “La Vergine degli Angelo,” giving the sense that she couldn’t maintain a steady legato. In these contexts, the sudden outbursts of large, potent high notes made them come off as empty, if forceful. Topping it off was her mushy Italian.

The recitative prior to “Me pellegrina ed orfana” was sloppy and rhythmically all over the place. The aria itself was sung with the same dynamic throughout, unable to give semblance to Leonora’s torn state of mind. In her duet with Alvaro, Davidsen sang with technical prowess, especially in the second part “Seguirti, fino agli ultimi.” But her chest voice on the lines “Alvaro, io t’amo” sounded hollow.

The second aria, “Sono giunta! grazie o Dio!” opens with another recitative that features a high note following the phrase “Ed or mi lascia, mi fugge!” Following that note, the second section “Madre, pietosa Vergine,” which is accompanied by syncopated rhythms, lacked any built-in dynamics leading to muted dramatic force. The third melody on “Deh, non m’abbandonar!” did feature some beautiful connected lines that showcased Davidsen’s piano line, especially on “Pietà di me, Signore.” However, she couldn’t hold the phrase long enough. As the aria built to the climax, it seemed that Davidsen had lost steam and her singing meandered, especially on the phrases “Che come incenso ascendono.” The final climax of the aria, which repeats “Pietà di me, Signore,” didn’t really build too much as she sang with the same forte dynamic twice.

In Act four Davidsen had her best moment of the evening with “Pace Pace Mio Dio,” receiving a huge ovation following her rousing B Flat. But it was mostly that, an extended high note that resonated throughout the auditorium. She did have some lovely pianissimi, especially on the lines “Invan la pace.” And the opening “Pace Pace” was spectacular as she crescendoed from a piano to a forte and back to the piano. But besides these moments the middle section “Cruda sventura” lacked any pathos or build, seemingly stuck in the same gear for the duration. The coda, “Misero pane, a prolungarmi vieni,” felt more like Davidsen was thinking ahead to the final high note instead of being in the moment with the music.

Finally, in the trio, Davidsen sang with iffy intonation, and her voice never really blended into the ensemble. It seemed to get a bit shrill and the vibrato became shakily noticeable with the voice taking on a grainy timbre.

Davidsen is a fantastic singer with an impressive instrument. Given how she is so clearly second to none in the German repertory, her foray into Italian at the Met proved disappointing.

Messy & Erratic

Then there’s the Met Opera’s music director, whose interpretations of Verdi have always been the epitome of a mixed bag, often trading in simplicity for the need to put his stamp on everything. While his “Don Carlo” benefitted from its more gentle qualities, the hodgepodge edition of the French-Italian version he ultimately chose for that production was a musical mess. With “Traviata,” he seemed intent on reinventing the wheel, being overzealous with his accenting and inconsistent with his tempi (he did however, as he observed in interviews, obey Verdi’s original intention of returning the second intermission that had been cut from a previous production, even if he still maintained the traditional cuts, which were not Verdi’s original intention). His “Requiem” recording also often feels like it collapses into curated examples of pure showmanship that takes away from the overall musical and dramatic tapestry; one example that always comes to mind is the exaggerated rallentando in the middle of the “Dies Irae” where his desire to be overemphatic with the slowdown is both successful at being in your face while also sucking the energy out of the piece.

And things were not much better with “Forza” as Nézet-Séguin’s conducting was erratic at best and lacked in support for his cast throughout the night. From the opening fate chords in the overture, the brass sounded bombastic and squeaky. The overture languished with inconsistent tempi that were often slow. Moreover, the music-making was riddled with over-the-top accents in certain areas.

During Leonora’s opening aria, “Me, pellegrina ed orfana,” there were random dead spaces in the music, the accompaniment scattered in the string section. Moreover, it didn’t sound like it was in synch whatsoever with Davidsen. The subsequent duet was also slow and tepid with the same breaks in the music, killing the flow and the drive of the love duet. In Act two, “Viva la guerra” dragged along and the balance was messy at best. Mezzo-soprano Judit Kutasi, who had some difficult moments here, especially during “Al suon del tamburo,” got an extremely bombastic orchestra to work with. 

“Padre eterno signor” featured a muted chorus, the orchestra playing a weak accompaniment with no flow. The “Tua grazia, o Dio” in the Leonora-Guardiano duet lacked any gentleness but was instead marred by shoddily accented lines. The intermezzo was painful.  The violin solo, while gorgeous and featuring embellished legato lines, sounded a bit overwhelmed by the overemphatic organ accompaniment.

Act three was by far the weakest I have ever heard of the Met Orchestra play. Nézet-Séguin zapped all the energy of perhaps the most dramatic moments of the evening. The opening clarinet solo of “La vita e inferno all infelice” was so slow that it was hard to follow the melody or the gorgeous embellishments that the clarinet was trying to do. Then during “O tu che seno agli angeli,” Jagde was essentially on his own, the accompaniment lost. The orchestra was so slow, that all you could hear were the awkward and airy spaces in the music. It was a miracle that Jagde was able to get through with such ease, given the extreme tempo Nézet-Séguin decided to take. Then there was the encampment scene, which was again deliberate and lacking in joy. The Rataplan was lifeless and the ballet was incredibly languid. These scenes are always the most complex to sit through, especially because they are more about world-building and detract from the main plot. Any conductor is met with the challenge of giving them a life of their own. On this evening the Met opera’s music director didn’t seem interested of meeting said challenge.

The duet “No, d’un imene il vincolo,” which starts with a bel canto oompah-pahs, harkening back to Bel Canto in its purest form to express Alvaro’s romantic naiveté in this moment, was marred by random accents that made the opening accompaniment sound more like a waltz. When Don Carlo enters with his forceful “Stolto! Fra noi dischiudesi,” that bel canto line is interrupted by forceful tremolos. There is tension building in Verdi’s writing, but on this evening, the orchestra did nothing with the momentum or dynamics, the climax feeling rushed and forcing Jagde and Igor Golvatenko to skip a couple of lines in the coda.

Act four was anti-climactic at best with a rushed “Il resto, a voi prendetevi” and a final trio that lacked any of the sublime ethereal quality of the gentle orchestral accompaniment. “Pace Pace mio dio” was conducted with a very straightforward tempo that lacked any ebb and flow that the aria requires.

“La Forza del destino” is quite an unwieldy and long work that lasts three hours and 20 minutes. And for an evening that was supposed to end at 11:00, the performance managed to end 15 minutes late. If this performance was already going to be so long, the production and conductor should have at least kept Melitone’s scene in Act three and kept the coda of “Che m’innondi il cor ti sento,” which was cut. But alas, it seems Verdi’s music will never get complete versions at the Met.


Igor Golavatenko sang the role of Don Carlo, the vengeful brother. What is ironic about the casting of Golavatenko is that the baritone is singing in a production that shows the chaos and destruction caused by a dictator and war. Meanwhile, the baritone continues to hold his position as a member of the Bolshoi Theatre where he continues to perform. That theater, of course, is now led by a staunch follower of dictator Vladimir Putin and has fired or forced many of Golavatenko’s colleagues to leave due to the War in Ukraine, a destructive invasion that started two years ago on the whims of a dictator. Of course, no one cares about anyone’s politics in opera, much less when we’re talking about melodramatic Verdi operas, so what really matters is if he did justice to the famed Italian politician/composer’s score.

Things got off to a solid start. His opening aria “Son Pereda, son ricco d’onore” was some of his strongest singing of the evening as he delivered a strong sound that showcased the anger and suffering of the character. His high notes were sung with great resonance and expressive quality, especially during the phrasing “Non astenne Pereda alcun danno,” and “Per l’amico Pereda soffriva.” During the middle section of the aria, “Là e dovunque narrar che del pari,” Golvatenko attempted to move the tempo forward with more drive but was inhibited by the lack of flexibility in the orchestra.

His first duet with Jagde “Solenne in quest’ora” saw Golavatenko sing with a gorgeous lyric line; unfortunately, it was here where things started going downhill for him as he couldn’t quite manage to blend with Jagde. “Urna Fatale” which is the baritone’s great aria, saw Golavatenko struggle with the fast tempi, resulting in choppy and smudged coloratura lines. He sang the aria but one didn’t feel much for the character’s agony. Ditto for the cabaletta “Egli e salvo oh gioia immensa.” The dramatic moment was sung with accuracy but the baritone felt like he was trying to keep up more than driving the music himself. It seemed as if he was going to attempt the traditionally interpolated high note at the end, but then abandoned the notion and settled for what Verdi wrote originally. 

His Act four duet with Jagde was perhaps one of his stronger moments as Golavatenko sang with everything he had and gave it some piercing moments of pure drama. He attempted to match well with the strength of Jagde’s massive voice, trading in his voice’s more elegant core for a harsher tone.

Making her Met debut mezzo-soprano Judit Kutasi had an uneven night as Preziosilla. The role is a challenge that needs a singer who has the lows, highs, and flexibility to fulfill the staccato phrases and the roulades. Kutasi has a voice that could easily fill the lush parts of the role, but with so few moments she had a hard time moving through the roulades in her first aria “Al suon del tamburo.” And during the “rataplan,” it seemed she had a hard time flexing her voice through the ensemble. It didn’t help that the tempo was just plain tepid and lacking in forward-motion. It also didn’t help that her character never got explored by the production. Kutasi did have one bright spot – great high notes that resonated in the auditorium. Next season she sings Amneris, a role that likely plays much more to her strengths.

Dystopian, Modern & Messy?

For the past years, the Met has shown productions that exploit modern-day America. First, we got the perspective of an Australian director’s “trailer trash” “Lucia” followed by an English director’s take on the Midwest in “Carmen.” Now with “Forza, we are getting Polish director Mariusz Trelinski’s modern-day set production, which depicts the chaos and collapse of society. In a way, it is the most thoughtful of these productions as it asks many questions and brings us to a world that may occur if we put governments into the hands of dictators and tyrants.

In 2024, the U.S. is facing an existential threat as a wannabe dictator and friend of Putin could very well be re-elected and put back into power. Trelinski gives a nod to that man, Donald J. Trump, as the opening of the opera is set in a gold-plated hotel called Hotel Calatrava. Inside that hotel, a birthday party for Leonora  is underway and one can see how Calatarva’s followers salute him as they would a Hilter-like figure. The director juxtaposes this moment with a final act that sees a destroyed subway station with homeless people struggling to survive. That is a clear warning of what can happen to a world that puts its trust in an insane man.

But aside from these visually striking images, Trelinski’s production ideas never clearly work. The encampment is striking in its details of war, the foreboding elements of the brown colors, and the fences which are a sign of enclosure and being trapped. But what else does it say? I am not quite sure. The characters throughout this scene are hard to understand, especially Trabucco and Preziosilla, who never get clear development or really seem to make much of an impact as entertainers or anything. They just stand there. The ballet turns into a chorus of slow-motion movements and the act ends with a questionably choreographed fight between Alvaro and Don Carlo.

But perhaps the most dizzying element of this production is the turntable, the artistic signature if there ever was one of the Peter Gelb era at the Met. Few productions have managed to find a solid balance in using the turntable with most directors either relying on it too much or not finding consistent or adequate use in other circumstances. The gold standard at the Met remains David McVicar’s genius production of “Il Trovatore,” as it keeps the action moving without having the rotator distracting from any scene.

This “Forza” production isn’t on that level. The turntable is used powerfully in the final act which gives a scenic view of the many parts of the subway station and allows the scenes to move along at a rapid pace while keeping the story flowing. But otherwise, the turntable falls into the trap of overuse, especially in the overture. During this section, we see Leonora walk out of a party to smoke a cigarette and then walk back into the party only to leave to make out with her lover Alvaro, only to walk back into the party to be forced to dance with her father and then back into the office to prepare to leave. It’s a lot of movement, a lot of rotation, and back and forth that immediately puts itself at odds with the directness of Verdi’s music.

Act two takes place in an Officer’s club which moves from a bar, to a bathroom, and to a salon and continues moving without any clear idea of where we are. Most egregious of all is that despite having the turntable to, presumably, shift from scene to scene, the production still required the need to drop the curtain and impose pauses between scenes. The reason McVicar’s “Trovatore” turntable works so well is precisely because it eliminates the need to stop and start the opera a million times, keeping its momentum at fever pitch. “Forza” with its mammoth size, and at times, lack of clear dramatic direction when the encampment scenes show up, would benefit greatly from a similar setup. But in this case, the constant pauses add to the night, zapping it of dramatic momentum.

Finally, there were the visually arresting projections which featured a soldier and helicopters in war and a woman driving with desperation. They were fine projections but ultimately distractions and added to the running time of the already four-hour evening.

Another point of contention was the titles on the curtains. They were intended to add context to the opera but it was often hard to find out exactly what they were saying because they were out-of-focus. It’s a new production, but it felt like the company was employing an old projector.

Trelinski’s production deserves credit for aiming to use Verdi’s propulsive and urgent work to explore the dangers of a very immediate concern in our world. Unfortunately, while Verdi’s opera explores the warring complexities of hope and despair; of finding unity or of seeking loneliness; of finding solace in religion or of finding that inevitability of doom is near; of finding friendship only to discover your enemy; this production seems to only despair in the aftermath of tyranny.


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