Da Corneto Opera casts fate to wind with bold ‘Destino’ – Verdi’s ‘Forza’ gets a production to remember

Chicago Sun-Times (IL)-April 19, 2007
Author: Laura Emerick, The Chicago Sun-Times
Edition: Final
Section: Features
Page: 54

‘LA FORZA DEL DESTINO’
Highly Recommended
Where: Torrey-Gray Auditorium of the Moody Institute, 821 N. Wells (Saturday); Church of St. Hilary, 2800 W. Bryn Mawr (Sunday)
Tickets: $5-$35
Phone: (866) 468-3401

When Felix brushed back Oscar with the verbal fastball of “la forza del destino!” in the TV version of “The Odd Couple,” he was offering sage advice, not just an opera-loving smart guy’s rebuke.

His warning about the folly of tempting fate might apply to any company brash enough to attempt Verdi’s sprawling 1861 opera of the same name. Fortunately, da Corneto Opera wanted a challenge to celebrate its 10th anniversary, and with this concert production, it has more than risen to the occasion.

Verdi himself once remarked, as assistant conductor Robert Frankenberry reminds us in his thoughtful program notes, “It’s an opera of huge dimensions, and it needs great care.”

That’s an understatement of epic proportions. “La Forza del Destino” requires a large cast of top singers throughout, plus a massive orchestra and chorus. Because of its vocal (and financial) demands, it has not been seen locally since 1987, when Lyric Opera of Chicago presented it.

Working on the proverbial shoestring budget, da Corneto delivered a vocally transcendent “Forza” last weekend at the Church of St. Hilary’s in the first of four performances. From the opening notes of the opera’s famous overture, it was clear this would be a “Forza” to remember. Leading a 50-piece orchestra, conductor Robert Ashens skillfully pulled together the thematic threads of Verdi’s complicated score.

As Alvaro, Italian tenor Francesco Valpa thrilled throughout, especially in the treacherous Act 3 showpiece “O tu che in seno agl’ angeli.” The heroine Leonora taxes even the most robust soprano; Rose Guccione sounded thin early on but blossomed by evening’s end, especially in Act 4’s prayer, “Pace, pace, dio mio.” As Don Carlo, baritone Mark Walters generated vocal fury while mezzo Sonia Gariaeff sparkled as the gypsy Preziosilla.

In smaller roles, bass Alvaro Ramirez (who also prepared the excellent chorus), tenor Stephen Cannon and bass David Govertsen all made important contributions. In his solo debut, former chorister Karrel Bernardo proved to be a real find.

Two more chances remain to make a date with destiny. Don’t miss them.

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