Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La forza del destino - Melodramma in four acts (production in the original St. Petersburg version, 1862)
Marquis of Calatrava - Grigory Karasev (bass); Donna Leonora, his daughter - Galina Gorchakova (soprano); Curra, her chambermaid - Lia Shevtsova (soprano); Don Alvaro, lover of Leonora and of Royal Inca Indian descent - Gregam Grigorian (tenor); Don Carlo of Vargas, Leonora’s brother - Nikolai Putilin (baritone); Preziosilla, a gypsy girl - Marianna Tarasova (mezzo); Fra Melitone, a Friar - Georgy Zastavny (bass); Padre Guardiano, Father Superior - Sergei Alexashkin (bass); Mastro Trabuco, muleteer - Nikolai Gassiev (tenor); An Alcade, a mayor - Yevgeny Nikitin (tenor); Spanish military surgeon - Yuri Laptev (tenor)
The Kirov Chorus and Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Director: Elijah Moshinsky, Set design: Andrei Voitenko after original designs by Andreas Roller; Costume design by Peter J. Hall
rec. live, Mariinsky Theatre, 1998
TV and Video Director: Brian Large
Sound Format: PCM Stereo. DVD Format: DVD 9, NTSC. Picture Format: 16:9
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, and Dutch
Booklet essay and synopsis in English, French, German
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 100079 [160:00]

This DVD video recording is, in its way, an historic document. It is quite distinct from the various other recordings available in the medium and not just because conductor Valery Gergiev uses the rarely heard original version, composed for St. Petersburg and premiered in that city in 1862. That version has distinct differences from Verdi’s revised version, first staged in Milan in 1869 and contains dramatic scenes and arias not included in the latter. Furthermore, and nearly unique in the annals of recorded opera, the stage-set for this 1998 live recording in the Mariinsky Theatre recreates the designs produced by Andreas Roller for the original St. Petersburg premiere in 1862.  

Verdi composed La forza del destino after a two-year break from composition following the premiere of Un Ballo in Maschera (17 February 1859). This was a period of great turmoil in the states of Italy and consequently in the composer’s personal life. On 28 April 1859 the Austrian army had invaded and Victor Emmanuel had called on the Italian population to rise up and fight for their independence. On 29 April Verdi married Giuseppina Strepponi his long-time companion. He was 45, she 43. Whilst the regularisation of their relationship ensured Giuseppina’s situation in the turbulent times, it also made easier their social acceptance and movement in the political circles in which Verdi was increasingly involved. During the ensuing months Verdi, and his close friend Mariani, paid for and helped import guns for the local militias. With the help of Garibaldi’s troops and the machinations of Cavour, who Verdi described as the father of Italy, a unified nation came into existence. At Cavour’s insistence Verdi stood, and was elected to Italy’s first National Parliament. This was not exactly what Verdi had intended for this period of his life. Rather, he had hoped to spend time, and money, on his estate at St. Agata. Nor was Verdi wholly comfortable amongst the political activities. Although he in fact remained a deputy until the end of the first parliament in 1865, he had earlier asked Cavour, who died in June 1861, for release as he had been approached for another opera.
This approach had come from the Imperial Italian Theatre in St. Petersburg. With Verdi busy away 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 del sino by Angel Perez de Saavedra, Duke of Rivas. This was deemed suitable in Russia and Verdi asked his established 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. They expected to be in St. Petersburg for three months and travelled to Paris to take a direct train.
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. However, Verdi himself was not wholly satisfied with his creation, and after its Rome premiere in April 1863 he withdrew it for revision. This recording is of the original St. Petersburg version of 1862 which was reprised the following year in that city. As I have noted, it is performed in a re-creation of the sets used in that original production.
In La forza del destino Verdi writes on a massive dramatic canvas. With its story of unrequited love, racial prejudice and violent deaths, some contend it is his darkest opera. Ever the man of the theatre Verdi leavened the dark facets of the story with brighter, even humorous interludes. These particularly involve the irascible Friar Melitone, whose sermon is lifted from a Schiller play, and who is forced to join a whirling dance with the vivandiers in act 3 in an army camp (CD tr. 17). Verdi poured great intensity and creativity into this work of his mature compositional period, and the opera contains scenes, arias and duets that are included amongst his finest music.
The sets are quite magnificent and atmospheric. With period costumes designed by Peter J Hall, gimmick-free direction by Elijah Moshinsky and idiomatic and dramatic conducting by Valery Gergiev this has the makings of a performance to savour. The singers largely match these virtues, albeit, not unexpectedly, there is some lack of Italianata among them. For his tenor friend Tamberlick, who had helped facilitate the composer’s acceptance of the St. Petersburg approach, Verdi wrote the most demanding music in respect of both length and vocal weight. In this 1862 version, the role of Alvaro is certainly not a role for a lyric tenor with aspirations. In fact Verdi quickly came to the conclusion that the vocal demands of the role could only be met by Tambelick and he quickly revised the score for performance elsewhere before withdrawing it altogether for more radical revision having also become aware that the triple deaths and overall darkness of the subject needed modification. Although not the most romantic in appearance, Gegam Grigorian as Alvaro sings with wide dynamic, full ringing tone and no little vocal grace in his demanding music (CHs.30-31 and 47-49). Although his fated lover, Leonora, gets quite a long rest after her big sing in acts one and two it is a role that requires a full spinto voice. It demands a wide range of expression and colour along with the ability to hold a legato line in the flowing cantilena of the La Vergine degli angeli that concludes act two (CH.28), and the more dramatic Pace, pace, mio Dio in act four (CH.58). In this performance Galina Gorchakova fulfils all expectations and hopes admirably with full tone and good Italian nuance to her phrasing.
Verdi had written the role of Melitone with the baritone de Bassini specifically in mind. He it was who had created Seid (Il Corsaro), the Doge (I Due Foscari) and Miller (Luisa Miller). He was not a buffa and Verdi wrote to him to assure him that he did not see the singer or the role in that context. What Verdi wanted, and got from de Bassini, was a full-toned and tuned bass-baritone with capacity for an acted and vocal turn of humour. This is what Georgy Zastavny conveys in this performance in a role that is often seen as a precursor to the composer’s conception of Falstaff (CHs.45 and 51). The Carlo of Nikolai Putilin is strong if a little dry and lacking in much variety of vocal colour, as is the Padre Giardano of Sergei Alexashkin. Although it is a matter of regret that Olga Borodina was not available to sing Preziosilla for this recording, as she was for the Philips audio set of two years previously, Marianna Tarasova’s gypsy is vocally rich if lacking a little in vibrancy whilst bringing the role to life (CHs.43-46).
This original 1862 St Petersburg version has several significant differences to the later revision premiered at La Scala in 1869, not 1867 as stated in the booklet essay (p9). Although two audio versions exist of this original version, this DVD should have pride of place over either in a Verdi collection. It is far easier to comprehend the differences in the sequencing of the unfolding drama in the original version of this complex and episodic opera. This is particularly so compared with the more commonly performed revision and especially when seen rather than merely read about.
For the revised version premiered in 1869 Verdi wrote an expanded overture, a new last scene leaving Alvaro alive, and re-arranged the numbers in the latter part of act 3 so as to finish with Preziosilla’s Rataplan della Gloria. This also resulted in the loss of a tenor aria and cabaletta (CH.49). It involved the relocation of the duet where Carlo reveals that he has identified Alvaro as the killer of his father, and he believes seducer of his sister, for whom he has been searching with intent to assuage the Calatrava family honour. It is in the 1869 revision, albeit often with cuts, that the opera is all too infrequently heard today.
The booklet contains a full Chapter listing with cast and timings, a brief essay on Verdi and his works, a second under the opera’s title and an act-by-act synopsis. The latter are given in English, French and German. 
Robert J Farr

Despite minor limitations this production and performance should have a place in every Verdi collection.