Giuseppe Verdi – La forza del destino
CAST: Alvaro: Mario Del Monaco, Leonora: Renata Tebaldi, Carlo: Ettore Bastianini, Preziosilla: Giulietta Simionato, Padre Guardiano: Cesare Siepi, Fra Melitone: Fernando Corena, Marchese di Calatrava: Silvio Maionica, Curra: Gabriela Carturan, Trabuco: Piero de Palma, Un alcade: Ezio Giordano, Un chirurgo: Eraldo Coda
Orchestra e coro dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma
Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, conductor
Decca, 1955 (2007)
This is perhaps the most famous recording of Giuseppe Verdi’s La forza del destino, dating back to 1955, when all the members of the cast were at the height of their vocal splendour. For this reason, this is considered the “editio princeps” of the opera by critic Piero Mioli.
Leonora di Vargas has always been one of Renata Tebaldi’s favourite roles and nature has supported generously her predilection. Everything, from the angelical timbre and the command of her voice to the resignation with which she accepts her fate, concurs to the portrayal of a heroine who seems to resist to her misfortunes only thanks to the purity of her singing. Tebaldi’s Leonora is afflicted and haunted by guilt in her deeds and thoughts. She is a heavenly and, in her own way, strong woman who does not really belong to this world and for whom ending her life in a hermitage is nothing but the most coherent thing she can do.
There is too much to write about Tebaldi’s performance. From the very first notes of Me pellegrina ed orfana, she is simply sublime. Every sentence reveals her sorrow, even if she does not seem to do anything to give prominence to it. In the long scene with the Padre Guardiano, she is remarkable for her statuesque dignity. Finally, in the mesmerizing Pace, mio Dio, everything, from the invocation («pace, mio Dio») to the choice of accents (as «cruda sventura m’astringe») to end with the powerful, booming «Maledizione!», is carefully considered and effectively conveyed. Tebaldi still remains one of the most perfect Leonoras in the history of opera.
(In 1958, Tebaldi recorded live at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples another Forza del destino, this time with Corelli as Alvaro and again with Bastianini as Carlo. It was later released in DVD. You can read the review here.)
Only another legendary singer as Mario Del Monaco could have sung Don Alvaro opposite Renata Tebaldi. Heroic tenor by definition, Del Monaco’s Alvaro cannot make any romantic exception to his intrepid and loud singing. There are no nuances in a character that in Del Monaco’s performance is first and foremost a brave man, but his beautiful and powerful voice, which matches Tebaldi’s very well, is on the other hand so smooth that this Alvaro has many strong point in his favour.
His entry in the first act is not one of the best, but shortly after he has perfect command of his means and he is very effective both in his blame of Leonora’s hesitation and in his unlucky surrender to the Marchese di Calatrava. O tu che in seno agl’angeli, Alvaro’s famous aria from the third act, is a memorable moment, and where only the lack of tenderness I mentioned before leaves this wonderful piece incomplete.
Ettore Bastianini is memorable as Carlo di Vargas. His character is bad tempered, indignant and scornful to the bone and is completely absorbed by his own thirst for revenge. The long narration Son Pereda in the second act is menacing and gloomy and goes beyond the words he is singing. His scene in Act III is an even wider and detailed account of his hate. There is no doubt that he really looks forward to vengeance when he triumphantly sings È salvo? Oh, gioia immenda.
When someone like Giulietta Simionato sings Preziosilla, the gipsy girl can only be amazing. Simionato reveals the temper of her character from her resonant, resolute entry with Viva la guerra!, when she immediately reveals Preziosilla’s desire to be the centre of attention. With her good humour, something so different from everything that has been heard so far, Simionato seems to imply that she absolutely deserves to be heard.
Preziosilla’s first aria, Al brio del tamburo, is far more bellicose and lively than the second, the famous Rataplan, where Simionato echoes the onomatopoeic sound of the drum with elegance rather than with élan, but her wit, her insight and above all the real fun she seems to have singing Preziosilla makes the character extremely enjoyable.
As for Cesare Siepi, he is outstanding in the demanding role of the Padre Guardiano. Everything he sings is reassuring and authoritative as it is convenient for a reverend figure. In his long duet with Tebaldi and in the final, tragic scene his presence inspires confidence and his powerful and smooth voice invites to solace.
On the contrary, Fernando Corena’s Melitone is a bit cold and detached and only some expression from time to time reveals a biting friar.
The last superb artist of this La forza del destino is Francesco Molinari-Pradelli. His conduction is impassioned, energetic, never sentimental and yet so plenty of feelings. The “fate theme” is stressed in such a way that the catastrophe is ineluctable and actually this seems precisely Molinari-Pradelli’s intention: to describe a great and exact picture of a dreadful tragedy as it appears in Verdi’s music, if not the sometimes nonsensical libretto.
This recording of La forza del destino is indeed one of the best ever released. Tebaldi, Del Monaco, Bastianini and Simionato are at the apogee of their vocal means and their great performances are milestones in the recording history of Verdi’s masterpiece.