La forza del destino
CAST: Marchese di Calatrava: Giorgio Algorta, Leonora: Renata Tebaldi, Don Carlo di Vargas: Ettore Bastianini, Don Alvaro: Franco Corelli, Preziosilla: Oralia Dominguez, Padre Guardiano: Boris Christoff, Fra Melitone: Renato Capecchi, Curra: Anna Di Stasio, Un Alcade: Giuseppe Forgione, Maestro Trabuco: Mariano Caruso, Un Chirurgo: Gianni Bardi
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro San Carlo Napoli
Michele Lauro, chorus master
Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, conductor
Hardy Classics DVD, 2003
The plot of La forza del destino is maybe the most ridiculous among those of Giuseppe Verdi’s best known operas. The succession of accidents which happen to the protagonists, from the accidental murder of the Marchese di Calatrava to the mortal wound inflicted by the dying Don Carlo to his sister Leonora, seems written by a dilettante and not by an experienced librettist as Francesco Maria Piave, who had already provided Verdi with the texts of Rigoletto, La Traviata and Simon Boccanegra. Once more, then, it is the music and nothing but the music that saves the action and in the case of La forza del destino Verdi composed suggestive melodies that, beginning with the theme of the overture and ending with the celebrated Pace, mio Dio sung by Leonora in the last act, are among the most memorable parts of the Verdian repertoire. If these pieces are performed by some of the best singers of the last century, the flimsiness of the plot can be ignored in favour of the music’s spell.
It was during a live performance staged at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, on March 15th, 1958 that Renata Tebaldi (Leonora), Franco Corelli (Don Alvaro), Ettore Bastianini (Don Carlo di Vargas) and Boris Christoff (Padre Guardiano) recorded a glorious addition to Verdi’s discography. Their performances are flawless, but there is a limit in enjoying them, due to the sound and video quality.
As it is proudly reported on the DVD cover, this is a «completely out-to-date audio and video re-recording» from the original tape, but it is better if you do not expect a miracle. The audio is fairly good and only in few passages it fades away, but sometimes the voices are overwhelmed by the orchestra and a little flattened, though usually clearly audible. The orchestral sound suffered much more than human voices and some unexpected noises and distortions often spoil the good work of the musicians and of the conductor.
As for the video, it is rather blurry. The backcloths are irremediably dark if they represent a night scene and the details of the others can be made out only with difficulty. Even the faces of the singers fade sometimes but there are beautiful close-ups when they are turned to the light. By what it is possible to see, the staging must have been splendid and in the theatre it must have been fabulous.
Despite all the flaws, this video is precious, considering that it was not so usual in the Fifties to record a stage performance. Renata Tebaldi was lucky from this point of view as one of her Toscas and Otellos, together with this Forza and an Andrea Chénier, are available on video, but this case is rare to the point of being unique. It will be enough to remind that do not exist a complete video recording of operas performed by Tebaldi’s historic rival, Maria Callas, and that in her case we have to content with the short excerpt from the second act of Tosca she sang in Paris with Tito Gobbi and few other clips to judge her acting. For this reason, a video recording of an opera performed in the middle years of the 20th century must be cherished even with all its imperfections.
If you really cannot stand this video recording but you want to hear how Tebaldi’s Leonora sounds, the great soprano recorded La forza del destino in studio three years before the Neapolitan performance (with Del Monaco, Bastianini, Simionato and Siepi). Leonora was one of her favourite roles and it can be said with objectivity that we are still wait for her worthy successor. The purity of Tebaldi’s voice is the starting point for her to create a pitiful Leonora, similar to an unhappy ethereal creature rather than to a woman plagued by bad luck. Her voice effectively expresses Leonora’s pain in Me pellegrina ed orfana and it even better suits the feeling of redemption in the duet with the Padre Guardiano (listen to the sublime final sentence «plaudite, o cori angelici, mi perdonò il Signor», «applaud, angelic choirs, the Lord forgave me») and finally it seems to appear from nothing when she intones in pianissimo the distressed Pace, mio Dio, an invocation sung by someone who cannot endure the suffering anymore.
Same vocal greatness but different temperament characterize Franco Corelli’s Don Alvaro. A true Verdi tenor, able to express every nuance thanks to his rich and warm voice, Corelli has the right means to sing as an ardent adventurer in the first act and as a discouraged lover in his scene in the third act. It is enough to hear how he pronounces La vita è inferno all’infelice to understand how deep his pain is, while Oh tu che in seno agli angeli is imbued with tender love and regret. His last farewell to Leonora in the last scene is so heartfelt and desperate to be moving.
The indomitable Don Carlo finds a great voice in Ettore Bastianini. His rich timbre and his temperament suit Leonora’s revengeful brother to perfection and his fury dominates completely the character from the remembrance of the vicissitudes he recalls under a false name in the tavern and that finds its complete expression in his scene in the next act. Here, Egli è salvo! Gioia immensa is a true hymn of revenge and the moment in which he can really give vent to his hate, a height he does not reach even in the wrangle with Don Alvaro before their fatal duel.
It can be said that Boris Christoff as the Padre Guardiano shares with Bastianini the uncompromising temper, but in this case firmness takes a completely different direction. Christoff’s powerful voice has a colour that cannot be defined in any different way but “sacred”, a sacredness that has in itself authoritativeness and strength and that you can be sure no one will question when he orders to leave Leonora alone in her solitude (Il santo nome di Dio Signore etc.).
Back to the secular world, Oralia Dominguez is a fine Preziosilla, lacking only a little more élan in the Rataplan but lively and bellicose in Al suon del tamburo.
Minor roles are performed by very good singers as Renato Capecchi (Melitone), comic but not grotesque as a mischievous friar, and as Giorgio Algorta (Marchese di Calatrava), but also by awkward ones as Mariano Caruso as Maestro Trabuco. It is worth remembering Anna Di Stasio, specialist of minor roles, as the maidservant Curra.
Francesco Molinari-Pradelli’s conduction has certainly lost many nuances in the recording, but what is preserved conveys the idea of a painstaking work, particularly careful in the rendition of the crucial passages but also lively in the choral and Preziosilla’s scenes.