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CD: Crotchet

Not for sale in the USA


Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La forza del destino (1869 revised version)
Maria Callas (soprano) – Leonora; Richard Tucker (tenor) – Don Alvaro; Carlo Tagliabue (baritone) – Don Carlo di Vargas; Elena Nicolai (mezzo) – Preziosilla; Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (bass) – Padre Guardiano; Renato Capecchi (baritone) – Fra Melitone; Plinio Clabassi (bass) – Marchese di Calatrava; Rina Cavallari (mezzo) – Curra; Gino Del Signore (tenor) – Trabuco; Dario Caselli (bass) – Mayor of Hornachuelos/Surgeon; Giulio Scarinci (tenor) – Soldier/Gambler; Ottorino Bagalli (tenor) – Soldier/Gambler
Chorus of La Scala, Milan/Vittore Veneziani
Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Tullio Serafin
rec. 17-21, 23-25, 27 August 1954, Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Appendix: Highlights from La forza del destino
Zinka Milanov (soprano) – Leonora; Jan Peerce (tenor) – Don Alvaro; Leonard Warren (baritone) – Don Carlo; Nicola Moscona (bass) – Padre Guardiano; Raymond Keast (baritone) – Surgeon
Robert Shaw Chorale/Robert Shaw
RCA Victor Orchestra/Renato Cellini (twelve numbers)
RCA Victor Orchestra/Jonel Perlea (three numbers)
rec. Manhattan Center, New York City, 16 February 1950 (tracks 14-16); 21 April 1953 (tracks 8-10) 18 May 1953 (track 19) 18 February 1955 (tracks 11-12); 7 April 1955 (tracks 13, 17, 18, 20, 21). Date unknown for track 7. DDD
NAXOS GREAT OPERA RECORDINGS 8.111322-24 [3 CDs: 75:58 + 56:59 + 78:37]
Experience Classicsonline

Anyone unfamiliar with this opera from Verdi’s middle period should not hesitate to correct that omission. Never mind the plot, which is a good deal less implausible than those of many mainstream repertoire operas. Its diverse dramatic ingredients afford wide scope for Verdi’s invention, and he fully meets the challenge with consistently superb music. In particular, the duets for Alvaro and Carlo and Leonora’s scene with Padre Guardiano respectively are among the finest in Verdi’s output.

Premiered in St. Petersburg in 1862 – opening with a completely different prelude from the famous one – it was revised in 1869 for La Scala. The revision, in every respect an improvement, is the version nearly always performed.

The two essential reasons for owning this performance of La forza del destino – in preference to all rivals, in spite of a few small cuts – are the incomparable artistry of Maria Callas and the incisive, completely authoritative conducting of Tullio Serafin. For one small example of Serafin’s superb direction, listen to the conclusion of the Alvaro/Carlo scene in Act 3 – marked Allegro agitato e presto. Here he achieves an electric intensity where the first violins accompany with piano triplets which really bristle. Serafin is never frenetic, yet he creates maximum drama. A further example encapsulating all his finest qualities would be the very final scene of the opera. It must be emphasised that his near-ideal conducting contributes enormously to the desirability of this set.

I can’t pretend to be a great fan of Richard Tucker. He is reliable and technically impressive, but often there is an unlovely, slightly dry, toneless quality to his singing – no ringing, no bloom. In Act 3 especially, his overwrought emotionalism, with sobs and gasps in almost every phrase, I find unattractive and unconvincing. Tagliabue (as Carlo) was fifteen years older, yet I actually prefer his rather more lyrically sustained delivery. Nicola Rossi-Lemeni as Padre Guardiano is a little woolly-toned but nevertheless lyrical. Elena Nicolai’s Preziosilla is frightfully squally. Among the smaller roles, Renato Capecchi’s Melitone undoubtedly gave me most pleasure.

Callas invests everything she sings with genuine human involvement, exposing even more Tucker’s hammier outpourings. In the presence of such great interpretative genius most other singers seem distinctly lesser mortals. Yet her astounding virtues seem lost on those opera buffs who are content with generalised fine singing. What is any kind of singing worth – whether opera or lieder – if the text is not invested with genuine feeling and meaning? In this respect Callas set new standards which, sadly, very few singers have even approached. Leonora is one of Verdi’s more complex heroines, her development encompassing indecision, desperation, terror and grandeur. Only Callas traces this development with artistry, drama and supreme musicianship. Odd notes are raw, unfocused or unattractive, but this is such a small price to pay.

The last fifteen tracks on disc 3 are devoted to nearly an hour of highlights from the same opera, originally issued the year after the Callas set appeared. This is no mere filler, but a valuable addition, with the celebrated Zinka Milanov as Leonora. Milanov has an admirable voice, full, rounded, secure and satisfying, without the deep musicianship and subtlety of Callas.

Michael Scott’s notes include a synopsis (no text), interesting background to the recording (including Walter Legge’s unflattering and unenlightened comments about Callas), and biographies of the principal singers and Serafin. Recorded sound is also fine. However, all this seems irrelevant when one can acquire a great Callas performance in a wonderful Verdi opera for under 20.

Philip Borg-Wheeler



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