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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La forza del destino, Melodramma in four acts (1869)
Revised 1869 version.
Original libretto by Francesco Maria Piave based on the novel ‘Don Alvaro, o La fuerza de sino’ by Angel Perez de Saavedra, Duke of Rivas.
First performed at the Imperial Italian Theatre, St. Petersburg, 10 November 1862. This edition was withdrawn from Italian Theatres in December 1863. Revised with additions to the libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni and first performed at La Scala, Milan, 27 February 1869
Marquis of Calatrava, Richard Vernon (bass); Donna Leonora, his daughter, Leontyne Price (sop); Curra, her chambermaid, Diane Kesling (sop); Don Alvaro, lover of Leonora and of Royal Inca Indian descent, Giuseppe Giacomini (ten); Don Carlo of Vargas, Leonora’s brother, Leo Nucci (bar); Preziosilla, Isolo Jones (mezzo); Fra Melitone, Enrico Fissore (bass-bar); Padre Guardiano Bonaldo Giaiotti (bass); Mastro Trabuco, muleteer, Anthony Laciura (ten); Alcade. James Courtney (ten); Spanish military surgeon, John Darrenkamp (ten)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/James Levine.
Production by John Dexter using set designs by Eugene Berman for the 1952 Met production.
Costumes by Peter J Hall.
Video director, Kirk Browning. Audio Producer, John F. Pfeiffer
rec. live Metropolitan Opera, New York, 24 March 1984
Picture format: NTSC/Colour/4:3
Sound formats: PCM Stereo. DTS 5.1. DOLBY digital 5.1
Menu language English. Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000440 073 4076 GH [2 DVDs: 180:00]

Verdi wrote La forza del destino after a two-year gap from composition following the premiere of Un Ballo in Maschera on 17 February 1950. During that period he had been active in national politics following the unification of Italy. He was tiring of that scene when approached for a new opera from the Imperial Italian Theatre in St. Petersburg. With Verdi busy away as a Deputy at the parliament, Giuseppina managed the correspondence and persuaded Verdi that with suitable provisions the cold in Russia would be manageable and he should accept the lucrative commission. The first suggestion of subject, Victor Hugo’s dramatic poem Ruy Blas with its romantic liaisons across the social divide, met censorship problems. After some struggle for another subject Verdi settled on the Spanish drama ‘Don Alvaro, o La fuerza de sino’ by Angel Perez de Saavedra, Duke of Rivas. This was deemed as suitable in Russia and Verdi asked his long time collaborator Piave to provide the libretto. Verdi worked throughout the summer of 1860 as Giuseppina made the domestic arrangements for the shipment of Bordeaux wine, Champagne, rice, macaroni cheese and salami for themselves and two servants. The Verdis arrived in St. Petersburg in November 1861, but during rehearsals the principal soprano became ill. As there was no possible substitute the premiere was postponed until the following autumn and after some sightseeing the Verdis returned home. At its delayed premiere the work was well received with the Czar attending a performance. Opera Rara issued a recording of the original version Review

Verdi, ever his own sternest critic, was not wholly satisfied with his creation, and after its Rome premiere in April 1863 he withdrew it for revision. The present recording is of the revised 1869 version. Not unusually, and to accommodate theatre intervals, the work was given at the Met in three acts. All the music of the revision is present but act two is designated as scene two and three of act one. There is, however, a significant difference from the standard revised version, which is used in audio recordings, particularly the 1969 EMI with Bergonzi and Martina Arroyo and 1976 RCA with Domingo and Leontyne Price. This concerns the scene between Alvaro and Don Carlo when the latter reveals that he knows the other’s identity and challenges him to a duel (DVD2 Chs. 40-41). In this performance the act sequence of the original 1862 version is followed with this confrontation ending the act rather than Preziosilla’s Rataplan. Verdi also wrote an extended overture, often played as a concert piece, and which replaces the original prelude.

This evening at the Met was always going to be special as it was the last performance given of the role of Leonora at the Met by the great Verdi spinto Leontyne Price. Perhaps the greatest Verdi singer of her generation she had dominated performances of the role at the Met since she first sang it there in the 1967-68 season with Corelli as Alvaro. She had to overcome racial prejudices to become one of the most loved singers in the company’s roster. She had opened the new Metropolitan Theatre in 1966, creating the role of Cleopatra in Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra. Price recorded the role of the Forza Leonora twice. In the first recording (1964) with the rather lachrymose Richard Tucker as Alvaro, she is in marvellous pristine voice, her phrases gleaming as they float over the orchestra. The young Domingo is her beau in the second (1976) recording on the RCA issue referred to. In the second recording her tone is not so gleaming, rather more smoky, but she phrases with so much involvement and portrays Leonora’s agonies with such consummate perfection that any slight vocal deterioration since the 1964 recording is easily overlooked and forgiven. By the time of this 1984 Met performance Price’s vocal resources were more limited, but experience and artistry enable the listener to put limitations aside. Her phrasing, vocal colouring and soaring cantilena is perfect Verdi. In Leonora’s opening romanza Me pellegrina ed orfano (DVD1 Ch. 4) the tone is a little thin but by the time she has to let the phrases soar in the Inn Scene (DVD1 Ch 11) she is back on form albeit husbanding her resources. Never the greatest actress, one is aware of the care Price is taking in her singing and this is reflected in the rather limited histrionics of this performance. The virtue of this approach is evident in her floated phrases in La Vergine degli Angeli (DVD1 Ch. 22) and a committed and well phrased Pace, pace, mio Dio (DVD2 Ch. 7) in the final scene. Needless to say, at curtain call the pent up emotion in the house results in tumultuous applause and a shower of flowers. I am glad to have her performance on video. Singers of her greatness do not come that often even if we do wish they had been caught in their vocal prime.

The rest of the cast are adequate but not outstanding in their roles. Giuseppe Giacomini is not often heard on audio recordings but is often seen on DVDs of staged performances where his upright acting and straightforward virile singing are complementary. He doesn’t do tonal modulation or gentle phrasing. The viewer can grateful that he does what he does do well, and he portrays a distinctive Alvaro. Leo Nucci’s lean baritone cannot infuse Don Carlo with the full range of the roles anger and frustration, or the necessary vehemence in his insults to Alvaro (DVD1 Chs. 40-41 and DVD2 Chs. 5-6). Bonaldo Giaiotti as Padre Guardiano is imposing of stature but rather placid in demeanour and vocal enunciation. His tone has dried out somewhat in the years since he sang the role on Price’s second audio recording. Raw vocal patches are also present in the Fra Melitone of Enrico Fissore who really hams up the role with rather too much eye rolling. Better is the Preziosilla of Isolo Jones. Her vivandier looks and sounds sexy. Whatever else she promises the recruits, her Rataplan would have stirred their blood (DVD1 Ch. 39). James Levine is less frenetic than on the 1976 recording and invests Verdi’s sublime music with a real feel for the cantilena, something that in his often over-dramatic urgency he has not always done on record.

The sets for this production date back to 1952. They and the costumes are in period and there are no quirky producer’s tricks along the way. The downside is that there is not a lot of production, The singers are left to their own devices. A little more direction would not have come amiss and might have given greater dramatic cohesion to Verdi’s massive schematic canvas. With its story of unrequited love, racial prejudice and violent deaths, some contend La Forza del Destino is the composer’s darkest opera. Darkness often pervades the stage, a situation overcome by the video director’s frequent and appropriate use of close-ups and short mid-shots.

I do not doubt that better acted Forzas will emerge on the medium including that from La Scala with Mirella Freni. But neither she, nor any other singer I know currently performing the role of Leonora, has Leontyne Price’s lineage in this repertoire. Who could begin to challenge the quality of her singing even at this late stage of her career? For the occasion, and the tribute to one of the greatest Verdi singers of our time, this performance is recommended.

Robert J Farr

 

 



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