When the entire plot is triggered by a freak accident, you can't blame director David Pountney for making Fate itself the opera's key character. The first scene of Verdi's La forza del destino ends when the Marquis of Calatrava, having blundered across his daughter's elopement, is killed when the pistol discarded by her lover, Don Alvaro, accidentally goes off. Pountney takes the peripheral characters of Preziosilla – a war-mongering gypsy – and Leonora's maid, and turns them into Destiny, driving the opera from the moment she strikes her staff three times on the fate-ridden chords that open the overture.

Justina Gringyte (Preziosilla) © Richard Hubert Smith
Justina Gringyte (Preziosilla)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Sometimes masked, sometimes in diamantine top hat and tails like a cabaret artiste, Justina Gringyte's Preziosilla dominates the action. It is Preziosilla who sees through the disguise of Don Carlo, seeking revenge for his father's death, and it is she who claims her victims in battle, bringing together Alvaro and Carlo (oblivious of each other's real identity) in military comradeship. And it is she who embodies the temptation Carlo feels, offering him the valise containing the wounded Alvaro's possessions, including the portrait of Leonora which gives the whole game away. When Carlo challenges the recovered Alvaro to a duel, Preziosilla steps between them; Destiny decrees their time will come.

Gwyn Hughes Jones (Don Alvaro) and Luis Cansino (Don Carlo) © Richard Hubert Smith
Gwyn Hughes Jones (Don Alvaro) and Luis Cansino (Don Carlo)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Pountney divides the opera – the first of a Verdi trilogy at Welsh National Opera over the next three seasons – into two halves, Peace and War. He keeps the action flowing, so we plunge from one scene directly straight into the next, aided by Raimund Bauer's sets that turn like the pages of a book. The opera sprawls, the action a series of unwieldy tableaux, but Pountney makes something coherent from it. He swaps two scenes in Act 3, bringing forward the embittered soldiers' scene – here a ghoulish revue at the Piccolo Teatro della Guerra – that Verdi inserted from Schiller's Wallenstein's Camp, thus allowing Alvaro a little more recovery time for the sake of credibility. Slight cuts are inflicted, the most regrettable the duet for Padre Guardiano and the grumbling monk Melitone in Act 4, although arguably it holds up the action.

Video imagery of the revolving pistol and a giant wheel of fortune remind us of the fatal accident, as does the blood continually seeping from the wall against which the Marquis collapsed; both Leonora, seeking refuge as a hermit, and Carlo smear their hands in it. A huge balcony window – until it is blasted away in battle – forms the shape of a cross, the monastery lit in blue and populated by penitential monks wearing bloodied vestments and mitres fixed by crowns of thorns, who engage in self-flagellation.

Mary Elizabeth Williams (Leonora) © Richard Hubert Smith
Mary Elizabeth Williams (Leonora)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Former music director Carlo Rizzi, given a hero's return, conducted a searing account of Verdi's score right from the ebullient rendition of the barnstorming overture. He drew magnificent playing from the WNO Orchestra, particularly the eloquent clarinet solo which introduces Alvaro's aria opening Act 3. Rizzi also secured big, whole-hearted singing from his cast. Mary Elizabeth Williams' dramatic spinto made for a vibrant Leonora. She didn't always quite spin a seamless legato, but she's a gutsy singer with more than a hint of Renata Tebaldi about her. Gwyn Hughes Jones – last seen as Alvaro in Calixto Bieito's production at ENO (the one The Met cried off) – employed his heroic tenor and Italianate sob to good effect. Neither he nor Luis Cansino's sturdy baritone Carlo are the most natural of actors, but their three duets were very well sung.

Justina Gringyte (Preziosilla) © Richard Hubert Smith
Justina Gringyte (Preziosilla)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Miklós Sebestyén made for a reliable Padre Guardiano, and doubling as the Marquis of Calatrava, while veteran baritone Donald Maxwell, in hollow voice but imparting the text so well, was the irascible monk, Melitone. Unsurprisingly, given Pountney's production, Justina Gringyte's Preziosilla made the greatest impact on opening night. Her granite-toned mezzo was in thrilling condition, especially when imperiously sitting astride a tank's gun to deliver the rousing Rataplan chorus, a huge blast at the end scattering her victims. Fate really does reign over this splendid Forza.