By Lynne Gray, PhD
Verdi’s La Forza del Destino ~ 2 Hrs 59 Mins
Conducted by James Levine, starring Leontyne Price, Giuseppe Giacomini, Leo Nucci, and Bonaldo Giaiotti. Transmitted live on March 24, 1984.
Another classic telecast – this one is from 1984 and features the legendary Leontyne Price – one of the all-time greatest Verdi sopranos. The wonderful Giuseppe Giacomini is Don Alvaro, the man Leonora loves, and Leo Nucci is her brother, Don Carlo, the dark instrument of all their tragic fates. John Dexter’s production, with sets by Eugene Berman, is traditional, if dark – and certainly fits this very dark opera.
Leonora is a young Spanish noblewoman and one of opera’s most tormented heroines. As the story plays out, she must endure the guilt of being, however indirectly, responsible for her calamitous losses of her father, her lover, and her brother—before she eventually is killed herself – as I said, dark. As always, Verdi heightens the tragedy with a string of heart-wrenching arias, glorious duets, trios, and ensembles. James Levine conducts the wonderful Met orchestra and chorus.
La Forza del Destino or The Power of Fate, (often translated as The Force of Destiny) is an Italian opera from Verdi’s late middle period. The libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave and in turn is based on a Spanish drama, Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino (1835). To my way of thinking, the better title here would have been ‘The Power of Hate’ because essentially, that is what this tragedy concerns. The noblewoman, Leonora, is deeply in love with a young foreigner, Don Alvaro, who is unacceptable as far as her family is concerned because, although he is a nobleman, he is from South America and presumably has some Native American blood. In the face of her family’s adamant refusal to allow her to marry the man of her choice, she agrees to elope with him. When he comes to fetch her, she is hesitant, reluctant to leave her family forever. And here is where Fate starts to get ugly. The delay gives her father enough time to enter and find the lovers alone together. He threatens Alvaro with death, and Alvaro, to remove any suspicion concerning Leonora’s purity tries to surrender by throwing his pistol to ground. As it hits the ground, the pistol discharges, killing the Marquis who dies cursing his daughter. Definitely an ugly situation.
The second act is an entire year later. Leonora and Alvaro had to flee the scene of her father’s death, but somehow in the long struggle to get away, they became separated and have not found each other. Meanwhile, Leonora’s brother Don Carlo, consumed with hate and rage has vowed to seek revenge on both Leonora and Alvaro, and so has disguised himself and is searching for them. The separated pair are also in disguise, Leonora as a man until she can reach the monastery where she has decided to seek refuge and Don Alvaro as a soldier in the Spanish army.
You really don’t need all the gory details that follow to enjoy the outstanding singing and beautiful music in this opera. It might even be better not to know the whole story because the hate filled Don Carlo defies understanding or sympathy. You can decide to read on – or not. As you may be able to guess from the picture, both Don Carlo and Don Alvaro wind up as soldiers, neither recognizing the other. Don Alvaro saves Don Carlo’s life and they become devoted friends – so devoted that when Don Alvaro believes he himself is dying, he entrusts Don Carlo with a valise and makes him swear to destroy it without looking at its contents. Don Carlo, of course, being who he is, breaks his word, examines the valise and finds that his best friend is actually his worst enemy. When it becomes clear that Don Alvaro will actually live, the hate-filled Don Carlo rejoices that he can now kill Don Alvaro himself. As I said – the power of hate.
Carlo insists on a duel which Alvaro does not want but is forced into. This time they are pulled apart and Alvaro leaves vowing to enter a monastery. You can see where this is going, I’m sure. Yes, it turns out to be the very same monastery when Leonora has been accepted, gone through the necessary trials and is now living as a hermit in a cave. Don Alvaro becomes the devout Father Raphael and is still unaware of the nearby presence of Leonora. The ever persistent and hateful Don Carlo finally finds Alvaro and forces yet another duel.
In the final terrible scene – although it includes Leonora’s incredible aria “Pace, pace mio Dio!”– (Peace, O mighty Father, give me peace!), Alvaro has run from the monastery past Leonora’s cave seeking help for the mortally wounded Carlo. The lovers recognize each other, but Leonora runs to her brother’s aid. Warning — I never watch the end of this opera, I simply can’t stand it. As Leonora bends over her brother to help him, he stabs her in the heart. She dies in Alvaro’s arms – and depending on which version of this tragedy the director chooses, Alvaro either kills himself too or simply prays to heaven to take him as well.
Forewarned is forearmed. This is a spectacular opera with a spectacular cast – if you can deal with ‘the power of hate.’
1. Leontyne Price as Leonora and Giuseppe Giacomini as Don Alvaro in Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” at the Met. Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Met Opera.
2. Leo Nucci as Don Carlo and Giuseppe Giacomini as Don Alvaro in Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” at the Met. Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Met Opera.
3. Leontyne Price as Leonora and Giuseppe Giacomini as Don Alvaro in Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” at the Met. Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Met Opera.