After what was by all accounts a very rowdy first night, one might have also predicted a certain riotousness at this, the second performance of Frank Castorf’s new La forza del destino. And indeed, it came to pass. The audience – or a vocal part of it – finally lost patience with the director's use of increasingly frequent spoken interjections, and matters came to a head in ugly fashion when an extended piece of dialogue from Curzio Malaparte’s Skin was interpolated in Act 4, spoken (in English) by Marko Mimica (Padre Guardiano) and Amber Fasquelle (Curra). The two performers waited patiently to continue as varying cries of “Viva Verdi!” erupted, countered by calls to respect the artists. There was a round of applause when the music restarted, as well as – it has to be said – a greater sense of theatre than before.

Agunda Kulaeva (Preziosilla), Michael Kim (Trabuco) and chorus
© Thomas Aurin

It’s difficult to know with Castorf what’s deliberate and planned, where the line between comprehensibility and deliberately fractured multiple meanings lies, but the outbreak only really served to underline how little sense of theatre pervaded the rest of what ended up a very long evening. The standard Castorf traits were there. At the production's heart was an elaborate revolving set, slightly varied for the second half when we moved from Civil War Spain to Occupied Italy, and through which the singers often had to weave their way, regularly followed by cameras projecting onto screens – one screen part of the set, another appearing intermittently from the flies, stage right.

One major addition comes in the sequin-spangled form of “Der Indio”, played by the Brazilian dancer Ronni Maciel. Castorf suggests in the programme that he represents a different, repressed side of the Marchese di Calatrava, although he is woven into the action pretty much throughout. He’s there to perform some sort of ritual dance as Leonora prepares herself for the monastery, and apparently brings the dead to life in a field hospital in Act 3, whereupon they start dancing with their PVC-attired nurses. Der Indio’s confrontational recitation of an extract of Heiner Müller’s Der Auftrag – in German and then in Portuguese – ignited the first isolated sparks of audience rebellion.

María José Siri (Leonora) and Ronni Maciel
© Thomas Aurin

But none of these additions, or numerous others, could distract from what, at core, was pretty unexceptional theatre. Principals were dressed in a standard mixture largely of military fatigues, leather jackets and period frocks (costumes by Adriana Braga Peretzki) and left to stand and deliver for large swathes of their music. The production’s predilection for direct lighting (by Lothar Baumgarte) led to several moments of singers standing in each other's light. At other times the projections (variously of other film and archive footage as well as live) needlessly distracted from what the cast were up to, most gratuitously as we saw the wounded degenerate into a writhing bloody mess in the field hospital Act 3.

Musically, too, things were a lot less focused and convincing than they should have been at a new production at a house such as this. In the pit, Jordi Bernàcer did little to bring Verdi’s score to life, and the orchestra reacted with playing that was routine rather than inspired. On stage, meanwhile, María José Siri proved a stylish, sturdy, admirable Leonora, but, though she’s an outstanding singer, she proved only intermittently moving here. Agunda Kuleava was underpowered as Preziosilla (half showgirl, half fortune-teller), and Markus Brück, though he acted forcefully, doesn’t quite have the vocal heft for Don Carlo – and he certainly wasn’t helped, in a set that offered little acoustic support, by regularly having to sing while sulking inside the back of a military lorry.

Russell Thomas (Don Alvaro) and Markus Brück (Don Carlo)
© Thomas Aurin

The most exciting performance came from Russell Thomas as Don Alvaro, who, after a slightly underpowered initial appearance, sang with thrilling abandon, the voice appealingly open and voluminous. Mimica’s Padre Guardiano was impressively resonant, and Misha Kiria brought a handsome baritone and plenty of comic bustle to Fra Melitone. Overall, though, this was hardly an impressive evening at the Deutsche Oper: a show whose place in the annals will be assured more by what went on in the auditorium than by anything that took place on the stage or in the pit.