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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Forza del Destino (1869 version)
Violetta Urmana (soprano) – Leonora
Marcello Giordani (tenor) – Don Alvaro
Carlo Guelfi (baritone) – Don Carlo
Julia Gertseva (mezzo) – Preziosilla
Roberto Scandiuzzi (bass) – Padre Guardiano
Bruno de Simone (baritone) – Fra Melitone
Duccio dal Monte (bass) – Il Marchese di Calatrava
Antonella Trevisan (mezzo) – Curra
Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Zubin Mehta
Piero Monti (Stage Director)
rec. live, Teatro Comunale, Florence, 2007
Region Code: 0; Aspect Ratio: 16:9; LPCM Stereo; Dolby Digital 5.1; DTS 5.1 Surround
TDK DVWW-OPFORZA [189:00]
Experience Classicsonline

This fabulous DVD captures one of those rare evenings when everything worked.  The singing and playing are fantastic, and the production is faithful and unobtrusive.  If you’ve ever found yourself despairing for today’s lack of big Verdi voices or for the horror of modern production styles then get your hands on this for the perfect antidote.
 
Forza has always been a problematic opera with its vast ranges of time and location.  Any production treads a fine line between believable characters and preposterous melodrama.  Zubin Mehta and Piero Monti present Forza as a full-on, blood-and-thunder melodrama and the result is powerfully compelling.  The production is naturalistic and traditional, updated to be contemporary with the 1860s when Verdi was writing.  The Marquis of Calatrava has a quietly sumptuous bourgeois home in the first act, and there is no doubt that we are in the Spanish mountains for the tavern scene in Act 2 – we get authentic gypsy costumes and even a gorgeous sunset behind the mountains.  The monks wear traditional habits in a monastery dominated by an image of Christ Pantocrator, and the soldiers in Act 3 wear uniforms consistent with the wars of the Risorgimento.  To under-score the point, Preziosilla finishes Act 3 waving a massive Italian tricolour.  In the final scene Leonora’s hermitage is a cage which she cannot leave: she holds Alvaro’s hand through the bars but even at the end they can never be together.  It all works tremendously well.  There is nothing here to distract you from the music, and plenty to enrich your enjoyment of what you hear – and what you hear is quite wonderful.
 
Those who think the art of Verdi singing is dead will be silenced by this disc.  Heading the pack is the glorious Leonora of Violetta Urmana.  Though she began her career as a mezzo, she first sang the full soprano role of Leonora at Covent Garden in 2004, and by the time this was recorded she had the full measure of the role.  Her tone is ravishingly beautiful throughout.  Her Act 1 aria is rich and moving, and her prayer outside the monastery is glorious: the rich arc of Deh, non m’abbandonar is truly ecstatic, as is the way she rides over the chorus of monks at the end of Act 2.  Her intensely dramatic scene with Guardiano shows desperation giving way to heavenly consolation, while Pace mio Dio convinces that her agony is still there, and she achieves a heavenly pianissimo on her climactic top note.  Opposite her is Marcello Giordani making his debut in the killer role of Alvaro.  His acting is non-existent, but his singing more than makes up for it.  He is ringingly heroic in the Act 1 duet, and he scales the arduous heights of O tu che in seno agli angeli with clarity and focus.  Opposite him is a young, exciting Carlo Guelfi as the malevolent Don Alvaro.  His voice is clear and noble with impeccable diction, and his acting is surprisingly convincing.  We actually feel his character changing as he goes through the whole gamut of emotions in the opening scene of Act 3: Urna fatale even makes us sympathise with him!  He sings the part with dark malevolence, but also an understated nobility which matches his character’s misplaced notions of honour.  The two men blend magnificently in the three baritone/tenor duets, with Solenne in quest’ora particularly moving.  Bruno de Simone’s thunderous bass brings fitting authority to Padre Guardiano, and there is a magisterial grandeur to both his scene with Leonora in Act 2 and the final trio.  Gurtseva’s husky mezzo makes Preziosilla sharply distinct from the other character, entirely appropriate for this gypsy outsider.  Simone’s antics as Melitone get a bit tedious, but that’s more Verdi’s fault than his.  All the comprimario roles are cast from strength, even down to the Mayor and the Doctor.  The chorus sing and act most convincingly: they make the move convincingly from raucous gypsies to humble pilgrims in Act 2, and the scene in Army Camp in Act 3 is good fun, enlivened by a full ballet, amongst other things.  Their singing contains Italianate conviction and power, as well as inherent musicality.
 
Over all is the commanding presence of Zubin Mehta in the pit.  He conducts a forceful and thrusting account of the overture, especially in the surging strings, and this raises the temperature for a full-blooded, headlong reading that barely lets up all evening.  Quite right too!  If you’ve heard his classic RCA Trovatore with Price, Domingo and Milnes then you’ll know the excitement that Mehta brings to this kind of music.  The orchestra play out of their skin for him and the score crackles with electricity.  You can expect the highest standards and not be disappointed. 
 
The DVD production values are very high, though there are no extras.  Camera direction is focused and appropriate, barring a couple of rather ridiculous “arty” shots which distract only slightly.  The voices sound pretty close in DTS, with a lot of focus on the centre speaker, while the orchestra tend to inhabit the left and right channels.  They are never less than clear and you can hear everything that goes on, even some irritating coughs in the quieter moments of O tu che in seno agli angeli.
 
This, then, is a Forza for our time, and one to come back to again and again.  The Leontyne Price/Levine collaboration from the Met on DG will always hold a special place in collector’s hearts, but Urmana is the better actor, and her voice is caught younger and fresher than Price in 1984.  There is also an irreplaceable 1958 DVD of Tebaldi, Corelli, Bastianini and Christoff from Naples.  It’s like a message coming from another world and is an unforgettable experience, not least for the thrillingly heroic, if endlessly vulgar singing of Corelli, but it’s not really one to return to for repeated viewing.  To my mind this set now leads the field and takes its place as one of the great Verdi DVDs.  Buy it and revel in it: it deserves to become a classic.
 
Simon Thompson
 

 


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