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West Bay's "La forza" earns chorus of praise

West Bay Opera presented an accomplished performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La forza del destino” Friday night at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, opening its 55th season.

Michel Singher, a distinguished conductor with a varied European and American career, displayed an impressive control of dynamic expression and tempo. A highlight included the popular seven-minute overture, played beautifully. The audience yelled bravos.

With a libretto by Franceso Maria Piave, “La forza,” set in Seville, Spain, in the 18th century, tells the story of a young woman, Leonora, tortured by the accidental death of her father and the subsequent quest for revenge. It ends with the dramatic deaths of Leonora and her brother, Carlos. Leonora’s lover, Alvaro, is left to endure a future without his love.

A beautiful tapestry, designed by Jean-Fran̤ois Revon, serves as the stage curtain and is used throughout the performance as a backdrop, with lighting to project the drama Рan extremely effective technique. Director David F. Ostwald brings the story to life magnificently. Claire Townsend designed the elegant costumes.

As Leonora, Olga Chernisheva is beautiful and talented, boasting a warm, strong tone. Although at times Chernisheva appeared to hood her sound, which affected her diction, her high notes were secure and she proved a lovely actress.

Peter Graham – double-cast as Leonora’s father, the Marquis de Caltrava, as well as Padre Guardiano – exhibited a commanding stage presence. His bass-baritone resonates with warmth and confidence.

As Alvaro, Leonora’s suitor, Percy Martinez’s performance showcased his acting skill and strong, resonant tenor. He remained deftly in character throughout, hitting a series of thrilling high notes. Gabriel Manro, a stunning Carlos, registered a standout performance with his beautiful open and free voice. Although he faces some challenges with the softer passages, Manro is likely to enjoy a long, full career. Michele Detwiler captivates as Preziosilla, the young gypsy, imbuing her role with joy and fluidity, not to mention wonderful singing.

In short, there is not a bad singer in the group, with supporting cast Carl King (Fra Melitone), Daniel Galpin (Trabuco), Carlos Aguilar (the Mayor) and Alexandra Mena (Curra) nailing both their acting and singing duties. The chorus was outstanding.

This infrequently performed gem is a must-see at West Bay.

Performances are scheduled 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road. Tickets are $35-$60; group discounts are available. For tickets and more information, call 424-9999 or visit www.wbopera.org.

The Town Crier is media sponsor of West Bay Opera’s “La forza del destino.”

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