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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La forza del destino, Melodramma in four acts. Revised 1869 version.
Marquis of Calatrava, Alastair Miles (bass)
Donna Leonora, his daughter - Nina Stemme (sop);
Curra, her chambermaid - Elisabeta Marin (sop)
Don Alvaro, lover of Leonora and of Royal Inca Indian descent - Salvatore Licitra (ten)
Don Carlo of Vargas, Leonora’s brother - Carlos Alvarez (bar)
Preziosilla, a gypsy girl - Nadia Krasteva (mezzo)
Fra Melitone, a Friar – Tiziano Bracci (bass)
Padre Guardiano, Father Superior - Alastair Miles (bass)
Mastro Trabuco, muleteer - Michael Roider (ten)
An Alcade, a mayor – Dan Paul Dumetrescu (ten)
Spanish military surgeon, Clemens Unterreiner (ten)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Vienna State Opera / Zubin Mehta
Director, David Pountney. Set and Costume design by Roy Hudson
rec. March 1, 2008
Filmed in HD. NTSC 16:9, Sound, PCM Stereo DTS 5.0
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese and Korean
Booklet English, German, French
C MAJOR DVD 751008
[161 mins]

Verdi wrote La forza del destino after a two-year gap from composition following the premiere of Un Ballo in Maschera on February 17, 1859. During that period, he had become a Deputy in the first parliament of the recently unified Italy. However, he was tiring of that world when approached for a new opera by the Imperial Italian Theatre in St. Petersburg. With the composer away on Parliamentary business his wife, Giuseppina, handled the correspondence and persuaded Verdi that with suitable provisions the cold in Russia would be manageable and he should accept the highly 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 struggles in the search 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 Verdi’s 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 Verdi’s returned home. At its delayed premiere on November 10, 1862 the work was well received, with the Czar attending a performance. Opera Rara has issued a sound recording of this original version (review) and a DVD exists, recorded in St Petersburg in 1998, in a reconstruction of the 1862 sets (Arthaus Music 100078 review).

The original version was reprised in St Petersburg in the two seasons following its premiere and was seen in several Italian cities in 1863 as well as in Madrid in 1864 and Vienna in 1865. Verdi did, however, withhold the score from theatres that he considered incapable of doing it justice. It is evident that he 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. He instructed his publisher, Ricordi, to include the alteration in the scores he hired out. Verdi was also unhappy with some other aspects of the score as it stood, particularly the three violent deaths in the final scene. However, it was not until Tito Ricordi proposed a revival for the 1869 La Scala carnival season that Verdi found a way forward. By then Piave, the original librettist had suffered a stroke that paralysed him for the last eight years of his life and during which Verdi provided much financial help to his family. The task of versifying the revisions fell to Antonio Ghislanzoni who the composer had met at the time of the writing of Attila and with whom he developed a cordial relationship.

The revised La Forza del Destino was premiered at La Scala on 27th February 1869. The presentation marked a rapprochement between Verdi and the theatre that he had barred from premieres of his works for over twenty years. The revision of the score from the original version are significant rather than major and involve the substitution of the prelude by a full overture, which nowadays is often played as a concert piece. A major revision of the end of act three includes the removal of the demanding tenor double aria whilst the whole final scene is amended avoiding the triple deaths. It is replaced by the Father Guardian’s benediction as Leonora dies and Alvaro is left alive.

Given the prominence of Director David Pountney’s name on the front of the DVD box, this reissue may be connected with the new 2018 production by Pountney for Welsh National Opera. In this 2008 Vienna production he adopts modern dress, including the absurdity of having Preziosilla’s troop costumed like cheerleaders at an American Football match (DVD 1.Ch.5) and showing a length of thigh that would certainly have offended the censors at the La Scala premiere! As Preziosilla, Nadia Krasteva acts well and her rataplan (DVD 2. Ch.17) is suitably stirring. This is more than can be said for a lot of the singing. As Alvaro the hunted suitor who accidentally kills Leonora’s father as they are about to elope, Salvatore Licitra has moments of lyric voiced beauty, but far too often is too forceful and penny plain in his vocalism. He had promise as a native Italian tenor, however his propensity to over sing and stolid acting ability restricted his appearances on film. He was tragically killed in a road accident shortly after these Vienna appearances. Lack of vocal richness is also evident in Alastair Miles singing, he doubles up as Leonora’s father and the Father Guardian of the monastery where Leonora seeks shelter from her brother. His costume includes a suit and tie, and later open necked, seems wholly inappropriate for the monastic role as he greets Leonora as she seeks and is accepted into a refuge in the monastery (DVD 1. Chs.17-21). The supposed comic character that Verdi envisaged as Father Melitone, and some have suggested is a precursor to his Falstaff, is poorly conveyed and sung in this scene and also in act three (DVD 2. Ch.14).

There is a better sung performance from Carlos Alvarez, who has the ideal variety of tone allied to strength of voice, awareness of characterisation and expressiveness. He makes a near ideal interpreter of this demanding role. In an era when the shortage of genuine Italianate Verdi baritones is so acute his presence and contribution is particularly welcome as is his frightening histrionic intensity in portraying Don Carlo’s implacable intention to find his sister and her lover. As his sister Leonora, loved by Alvaro, Nina Stemme sings with strong bright, forward lyric tone with just the odd moment of unsteadiness. Importantly, she sings the long expressive melodic line of Leonora’s Pace, Pace, mio Dio (DVD 2. Ch.22) with elegant phrasing, refulgent tone and depth of meaning.

A lot of the staging, as I have implied, is representational rather than realistic. This does nothing for the viewer’s comprehension of the somewhat rambling story particularly the manner of the battle scene which is set on what looks like steel framework and backed by a movie film of tanks and the like! On the plus side is superb choral singing and Zubin Mehta’s masterly treatment of the score.

Robert J Farr

Previous review (Blu-ray): Roy Westbrook



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