Friday, August 31, 2012

Verdi’s Forza - the Joys of Chaos

Acting on a commission for La Forza del Destino from the Bolshoi Theatre in St. Petersburg, Verdi responded by on a practical level preparing for winter; it would premiere in late November. He sent ahead Italian provisions; sausage, pasta, salami and acquired a very warm coat, of which there is a famous photograph and commenced work on his masterpiece of chaos.

La Forza del Destino begins with a common romantic operatic theme, thwarted love.  Donna Leonora is loved by Don Alvaro and they come from different classes and her father objects to the relationship, but there is also a darker reason – he is of Incan descent. A Peruvian mother and a Spanish father, both of whom died when he was young. He is in a way psychologically marked and sees in this love relief and salvation. On the night of their attempted elopement, the Marquis of Calatrava discovers them and horrified at the prospect of his daughter fleeing with a half caste he challenges the young Alvaro to a duel. Alvaro will not fight him and instead after swearing to the Marquis that his daughter remains untouched - offers up his life to be sacrificed to her honor. In an extravagant gesture of surrender Don Alvaro he throws his pistol to the floor and readies himself for the shot that never comes. In a caprice of fate the pistol fires when it strikes the floor, fatally wounding the father. Leonora falls to his side and to her surprise the Marquis dies cursing her.
In the madness that follows from this incredible accident all the action of the opera's plot grows in chaos and dissonance.  An obsessed brother, Don Carlo di Vargas now swears vengeance not only on Alvaro but also on his rebellious sister .Through different towns and countries in the space of years the chase scene goes on. The two lovers are parted, in fact Alvaro thinks Leonora dead. All three assume false identities that ironically insure their eventual and fatal reunion. There are wars, sword fights, false oaths, religious confessions, flights into mountain solitudes and church cloisters – all in vain. As predicted by a gypsy who senses that all are lying, but not toward what ends, they live in a state of emotional war with themselves and all around them. In exhaustion and restlessness Leonora speaks for them all in the beautiful” Pace, pace “:
Pace, pace mio Dio , pace mio Dio .
Cruda sventura
M’astringe , ahime , a languir :
Peace, O mighty Father, give me peace !
Bitter misfortune
Has brought me low

In the original version of the opera all three principals die. In the revision Verdi allowed for one to live and suffer with the knowledge of their fates.

In opera lore singers distrust the work. Leonard Warren died on stage performing it and Pavarotti it was said avoided the role of Alvaro all his performing life. We present the classic performance of the young Leontyne Price as Leonora along with Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill and Shirley Verrett in 1965.

Tune in for this Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and hear Verdi’s glorious opera of the damned, La Forza de Destino, here at noon on KPAC and KTXI .

by Ron Moore

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