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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La forza del destino - melodramma in four acts (revised 1869 version)
Marquis of Calatrava - Giuseppe Nicodemo (bass); Donna Leonora, his daughter - Susanna Branchini (sop); Curra, her chambermaid - Silvia Balistreri (sop); Don Alvaro, lover of Leonora and of Royal Inca Indian descent - Renzo Zulian (ten); Don Carlo of Vargas, Leonora’s brother - Marco Di Felice (bar); Preziosilla - Tiziana Carraro (mezzo); Fra Melitone - Paolo Rumetz (bass-bar); Padre Guardiano - Paolo Battaglia (bass); Mastro Trabuco, muleteer – Antonio Feltracco (ten); Alcade - Luca Dall’Amico (ten); Spanish military surgeon – Romano Franci (ten)
Orchestra Filarmonica Veneta/Lukas Karytinos
Director and costume designer: Pier Francesco Maestrini
Set designer: Alfredo Troisi
Video director: Tiziano Mancini
rec. live, Teatro Communale di Modena, Italy, January 2006
Picture format: NTSC/Colour/16:9
Sound formats: Dolby digital 5.1/2.0
Menu language: English. Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French and Spanish. Notes and synopsis in Italian, English, German and French
DYNAMIC 33512 [181:00]

After the premiere of Un Ballo in Maschera in Rome, and with no contracts pressing, the composer and his wife did not return immediately to their home in Busseto. Verdi was made an honorary member of the Accademia Filharmonica Romana and the Rome impresario, Jacovacci, attempted to persuade him to sign a contract for a new opera. Verdi was 46 years old and had composed twenty-three operas in twenty years. Because of the trouble with the censor in Naples - where Un Ballo in Maschera should have been staged - he had faced the pressures of composition for nearly a year. He announced to a small circle of friends, including Jacovacci, that he had given up composing and intended to return to his farm and enjoy the fruits of his labours in a more relaxed manner. Cavour, the father of the fight for the unification of Italy, persuaded Verdi to stand for Italy’s first National Parliament. He did so and was elected and attended assiduously until Cavour’s premature and untimely death when Verdi’s interest declined. Meanwhile in December 1860, whilst Verdi was away in Turin on political business, Giuseppina received a letter from a friend in Russia. Also enclosed was an invitation from the great Italian dramatic tenor Enrico Tamberlick, who Verdi knew and admired. Acting on behalf of the Imperial Theatre of St. Petersburg the letter invited Verdi to write an opera for the following season. Despite the likelihood of temperatures of minus 22 degrees below zero, the prospect of a visit to Imperial Russia appealed to Giuseppina and she promised to use all endeavours to persuade Verdi to accept. Whether it was her skills of persuasion, the fact that he was missing the theatre, or the conditions of the contract, and particularly of a large fee that would help fund the major alterations at Sant’Agata, Verdi eventually agreed.
After haggling about a suitable subject for the new opera, Verdi settled on the Spanish romantic drama Don Alvaro, o La fuerza de sino by Angel Perez de Saavedra, Duke of Rivas. Verdi asked his long-time collaborator Piave to provide the libretto. As usual the composer drew up the synopsis for his librettist to versify. It is sometimes said that the story is too rambling and full of improbabilities. That may be so, but it certainly inspired Verdi to compose some of his most wonderful melodies and fully characterise the roles. The dark core of Rivas’s drama involves scenes set among the common people including a gypsy fortune-teller. Verdi lightens the dark plot with its multiple deaths somewhat further than the play. To do so he uses a scene from Schiller’s Wallenstein Lager involving a panorama of life in a military encampment including soldiers, vivandieres, gypsies and a monk who preaches in the funniest and most delightful manner in the world. The monk would become Melitone in the opera and is often seen as a precursor to the eponymous comic role in his great final opera, Falstaff. What La forza del destino does demand are full-toned Verdi voices. It is no opera for upstart lyric voices. This is best illustrated by the fact that when Verdi and his wife made the long journey to St. Petersburg for the premiere in December 1861 and found the soprano contracted for the role of Leonora to be ill it was not possible to find a substitute singer from the company roster; the whole production was postponed for one year. When the opera was eventually premiered on 10 November 1862 it was a success with the Tsar attending, inviting the Verdis to his box and later investing him with the highest state honours.
Verdi, however, was not wholly happy about the ending of the opera with its depressing multiple deaths in the final scene. Aware of its challenges, he also withheld the score from theatres that he considered incapable of doing it justice. He had recognised the need for alterations early on when he transposed the tenor aria in act 3 downward on the basis that only Tamberlick was capable of meeting its demands. The Paris Opéra offered the opportunity of staging the work with the addition of a ballet, an offer that he declined considering it would make the evening far too long. Verdi eventually got round to a revision when Ricordi proposed performances at La Scala. The revised La Forza del Destino, the version performed here, was premiered at La Scala on 27 February 1869. The premiere also marked a rapprochement between Verdi and the theatre. The alterations of the score from the original 1862 version are significant rather than major. They involve the substitution of the prelude by a full overture, which nowadays is often played as a concert piece. There was also a major revision of the end of act three including the removal of the demanding tenor double aria. The whole final scene of the opera is amended. The triple deaths are avoided being replaced by the Father Guardian’s benediction as Leonora dies and Alvaro is left alive.
On DVD, the lavish nature of the original 1862 mise-en-scène can now be appreciated in our day. The Mariinsky Theatre of St Petersburg performed La Forza in 1998 in reconstructions of the original 1862 sets; these are quite magnificent and atmospheric (Arthaus Music 100 078). The appropriately big-voiced solo singers of the Mariinsky including Galina Gorchakova as Leonora match the sets. At the time of writing two DVD issues of the revised 1869 version are readily available. Both exemplify something of performance practice in respect of either sequencing or cuts. The Met recording of 1984, in sets dating back to 1952, features Leontyne Price, perhaps the greatest Verdi soprano of her generation alongside Domingo as Alvaro and Nucci as Don Carlo, the brother who pursues the two lovers believing they have sullied the family name (see review). The performance is given in three acts with, significantly, a re-ordering of the original act three, which finishes with the recognition and duel duet between Alvaro and Carlo rather than Preziosilla’s Rataplan as Verdi intended. An earlier DVD in black and white dating from 1958 has Renata Tebaldi as Leonora alongside Franco Corelli as Alvaro, Bastianini as Carlo and Christoff as Padre Giardano.
The presence of such noted singers on all those recordings indicates not merely the casting by international opera houses, but the vocal demands of the work. But the reordering of the scenes in the Met production and the black and white limitations leave a gap in the catalogue for an imaginative production with appropriate-sized voices in a modern recording. Opera lovers will remember the audio recording under Muti from La Scala with Freni, a Mimi to die for, well out of her depth as Leonora. I doubt if the Leonora on this recording has the vocal equipment to sing a passable Mimi, even in the small-sized Teatro Communale di Modena where this performance was recorded. She is the most seriously over-parted singer in a cast lacking voices of the required character and vocal strength for this demanding work. Her Me pellegrina (Act 1 Ch. 2), and Pace, mio Dio (Act 4 Ch. 4) are painful to listen to. Similarly her acting has little to commend it either and there are few signs of directorial help. She is not alone in being in need of such assistance. The sets in act three (Chs. 1-5) are particularly inept and cramped in width and the tenor and baritone have to make their own way, looking rather over-dressed for a battle scene. The first scene has the only piece of directorial imagination in the whole evening with Alvaro being worked on upstage by the surgeon whilst Carlo wonders about the identity of his new and brave friend and agonizing over his promise not to open the sealed package that has been passed to him. He does, however, find a portrait of his sister and realises the identity of his fellow soldier and the drama of the promise duet Solenne in quest’ora turns to a duel challenge (Act 3 Ch.2). The dramatic confrontations between the two in act three, preceded by Alvaro’s demanding La vita e inferno (Act 3 Ch. 1) and Carlo’s Morir! Tremend cosa and Urna fatale (Act 3 Ch. 3) require big-voiced Verdi singing of the highest order. Well, the tenor here, Renzo Zulian, is no Tamberlick. He evinces strain at the top of his voice and has little sense of phrasing or colour let alone characterisation. The Carlo of Marco Di Felice is a little better, but in trying to fill his voice out with fuller tone it becomes monochromic. Elsewhere the young bass Paolo Battaglia as Padre Guardiano is made up to look older and ends up more like a Martian refugee from Star Wars. There are moments when I think his voice has promise with sap and bass resonance; at others his tone is dry. He is unable to convey the gravitas appropriate to the role either via his voice or by his advantageous physical stature. As Fra Melitone, Paolo Rumetz makes his presence felt and acts the part of the irascible brother quite well but his interpretation is limited by unsteadiness at the top of the voice. Tiziana Carraro’s Preziosilla has no such trouble but fails to bring much to the role. Again I fear poor directorial input leaves him stranded and hardly portraying the vivandier.

It was not long ago I was able to enthuse about Dynamic’s recording of I Vespri Siciliani, the Italian version of, Verdi’s grand opera written for production at the Paris Opéra in 1855. Performed at the tiny Teatro Verdi, Busseto, and directed by the experienced Pier Luigi Pizzi, it is commendable in many ways where this performance so notably fails. First in the quality of voices, second in the director’s use of space whilst using minimal stage props and, most importantly, his direction of the singers (see review). The moving sets in this production, whist giving the possibility of quick scene changes, only provide an appropriate and evocative mise-en-scène at the start of act one and in the later scenes in the monastery. As in the battle scene of act three noted above, the final scene (Act 4 Chs. 4-5) fails to give Leonora’s habitation much atmosphere whilst the management of her stabbing by Carlo is lost off-stage. The chorus sing with some vivacity but the conductor struggles at times to keep pit and stage together. Only at the end do the audience show much enthusiasm for the performance. Elsewhere their tepid applause has the virtue of not intruding into the unfolding story.
Robert J Farr


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