Last week I presented the best recordings of Le Nozze di Figaro. Mozart’s masterpiece is a perfect, flawless opera. For me, the natural comparison point is to find the perfectly flawed opera. The opera I have found that best fits this bill is La Forza del Destino.
The melodrama in this piece is often maudlin, and we go long periods of time without seeing characters, at which point it would be easy to forget the character arcs or motivations without the expert composition of Verdi. Within this overpowered story of love and vengeance is some of the most splendid music Verdi ever wrote. It blends both the tradition of Bel Canto and hints at the through composed style that would become his calling card with his last two operas Otello and Falstaff. Each line of music fits the characters precisely. As a result of this we have an opera that has no business being as good as it is, but with electricity that is impossible to deny.
Admittedly, there are less great recordings from which to choose for this opera than in previous weeks. For this list I have found one studio recording and one live recording. But, due to the brilliance of this music and lack of great recordings I am including a couple of miscellaneous, compelling excerpts from this opera.
Forza is an oft forgotten gem. But, I feel like the recordings I share with you today will make you long for it to have a more frequent place in the repertoire, just as I do. I hope you enjoy listening.
1955 Decca Recording: Mario del Monaco, Renata Tebaldi, Ettore Bastianini, Cesare Siepi, Fernando Correna, Giuletta Simionato w/ Francesco Molinari-Pradelli Conducting
This is top to bottom the most stacked recording I’ve reviewed yet. Mario del Monaco is in his prime, singing the role of Alvaro with a leonine quality, but also with some of the most subdued dynamics of his entire career. Renata Tebaldi’s singing in this recording is a perfect example of why Toscanini told her she had the voice of an angel when he first heard her sing. Bastianini sings the villainous Don Carlo with a snarl that conveys his malice perfectly, but also finds charm within that menace, like in Son Pereda. Cesare Siepi shows off the sonorous voice for which he was known as Padre Guardiano, the monk who is a source of comfort for Leonora in her self-imposed exile. Fernando Correna, possibly the greatest basso buffo of his time, brings the blustery, grumpy Fra Melitone to life, giving much needed brief comedic breaks to the drama. Giulietta Simionato is luxury casting in the role of Preziosilla. Her involvement in the plot and music is minimal compared to the previous five characters, but Simionato sings it so masterfully that she can’t help but make an impression. Molinari-Pradelli brings the score to life with aplomb.
Ettore Bastianini and Mario del Monaco sing Invano Alvaro
1958 Teatro di San Carlo Napoli: Franco Corelli, Renata Tebaldi, Ettore Bastianini, Renato Capecchi, Boris Christoff, Oralia Dominguez w/ Francesco Molinari-Pradelli Conducting
This is another stacked cast. Bastianini and Tebaldi are both incredible in their roles once again, but this recording has the added benefit of film documentation. With this we can see Bastianini carry himself with incredible swagger and Tebaldi perfectly portraying the humility of the unassuming Leonora. Corelli sings with virility and high notes packed with squillo. Renato Capecchi, although not a basso buffo, sings Fra Melitone with an open sound that seems to have no limits. Boris Cristoff sings Padre Guardiano with a deep, warm sound that resonates throughout. Oralia Dominguez has an almost contralto-ish tone that works well for Preziosilla and carries herself well on stage. Once again Molinari-Pradelli does a fine job with this score.
Ettore Bastianini sings Son Pereda
La Vergine Degli Angeli
This scene with chorus and Leonora is a stunning invocation. Verdi had complete mastery over choral writing, with too many wonderful choruses to list here. But, this is one of the most beautiful, and sadly too often forgotten, that Verdi wrote. This invocation is like a more subtle version of the Inneggiamo(easter hymn) from Cavalleria Rusticana. The best representation of this scene for my money is from the 1952 Metropolitan Opera production with Zinka Milanov as Leonora. Her huge voice is able to scale back to almost nothing to stunning effect. Richard Tucker, Leonard Warren, Jerome Hines and Mildred Miller round out this cast, and it’s most certainly worth checking out. Fritz Stiedry conducts.
Possibly the most famous piece in this opera is the overture. The theme of destiny reverberates throughout, whilst also conveying themes of contrition and regret. It’s a whirlwind the entire way through, and it very well might be the greatest overture Verdi wrote. For a superb representation of this overture I am selecting the Italian master conductor himself, Arturo Toscanini.
La Forza del Destino is such a wonderful opera, and I wish it was performed more often. There are great singers who were tremendous interpreters of their roles within this opera that were not featured on this list. Examples are Leontyne Price, Maria Callas, Cornell MacNeil, Robert Merrill, but due to the scarcity of recordings for this opera there are few recordings where the full cast is compelling. However, working through the available recordings to bring you this list was a joy. I hope you enjoy listening.