Friday, May 27, 2011

Sunday Classics preview: In bits from Verdi's "Forza," two characters search for oblivion


To call the Forza Overture Verdi's greatest may not adequately reflect its stature, since as we've noted he didn't write that many full-scale overtures. Here, in Japan, Plácido Domingo -- after taking his bow, presumably for vocal contributions to the program -- literally takes the baton to conduct quite a credible performance as an encore.

by Ken

For a while now I've a musical passage encamped in my head, even coming in a specific voice. It's tenor Giuseppe di Stefano as Don Alvaro in the last act of Verdi's La Forza del destino (The Force of Destiny), trying to maintain his own control while pacifying his long-unencountered nemesis, Don Carlo, looking back on his former life from his present state of mental near-oblivion.

VERDI: La Forza del destino: Act IV, Scene 1,
Don Alvaro, "Vissi nel mondo, intendo"

DON ALVARO: I've lived in the world, I understand.
Now these garments, the hermitage
tell you that I've made amends for my faults,
that my heart is penitent.
Let me be, let me be.
Giuseppe di Stefano (t), Don Alvaro; Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia (Rome), Fernando Previtali, cond. RCA/Decca, recorded 1958

At other times I am vulnerable to this startling glimpse into the mental state of Alvaro's should-have-been life partner, Donna Leonora di Vargas, whom we encounter in the second scene of Act II still seeking mental oblivion following what Alvaro will refer to as the "night that ravished me of every happiness." It has taken her last ounce of strength to reach the monastery in the mountains of Hornachuelos (in Córdoba province), where at first the kindly Padre Guardiano recoiled, realizing who she was, then more characteristically invited her -- in an extraordinary phrase we'll hear in the click-through -- to "come trusting to the cross."

VERDI: La Forza del destino: Act II, Scene 2,
Leonora, "Più tranquilla l'alma sento"

LEONORA: I feel my soul more tranquil
since I tread this ground.
The fearful phantasms
I no longer feel making war against me.
No longer does my father's shade
rise bleeding before me,
nor do I hear him, terrible,
cursing his daughter.
Leontyne Price (s), Donna Leonora; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Live performance, March 9, 1968

* * *

We're going to hear these musical moments of "character truth" again in the click-through, and then hear them in slightly fuller contexts -- though not nearly full enough to do anything like justice to the extraordinary scenes I'm ripping them out of. And then we're going to hear a couple of other vivid musical characterizations of them, and then . . . if you click through, you'll hear.



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