Thursday, May 29, 2003

[5/29/2011] Sunday Classics: Verdi's "Forza" demonstrates from start to finish what only opera can do (continued)


Ezio Pinza as Padre Guardiano directs
his compassion toward Leonora.
Come, trusting, to the cross.
There the voice of heaven will inspire you.
Ezio Pinza (bs), Padre Guardiano; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Live performance, Jan. 23, 1943

When we heard this amazing passage Friday night, it may have seemed as if Verdi was proposing nice churchy solutions to earthly problems. On the contrary, he seems to be showing the church's utter absence of any ability to provide real spiritual sustenance. It is that deep compassion of Guardiano's that drives him to try to help Leonora in the way that she seeks -- occupying a solitary mountain refuge near the monastery which she's been told about -- but the fact is that he has no real help to offer her. Neither she nor Alvaro committed any crime, and their punishment is to be put beyond earthly hope.


In one of the later confrontations, Carlo makes clear that he considers Alvaro "my father's murderer." Well, no, I'm sorry. Not even close. I know that the world considers Alvaro and Leonora loathsome criminals for their conduct, but I'm sorry, they didn't commit any crime. And I think we need to go back to the fateful events themselves.

The opera opens in the scene is the main room of the country home of the Marquis of Calatrava -- "furnished in 18th-century style, but shabby." At first we have every reason to believe that the marquis is a wonderfully caring parent.

La Forza del destino: Act I opening,
Marquis of Calatrava, "Buona notte, mia figlia"

The MARQUIS , with a candle in his hand, is bidding goodnight to DONNA LEONORA, who seems preoccupied. LEONORA's servant CURRA enters.

MARQUIS [embracing Leonora affectionately]:
Good night, my daughter; goodnight, dear.

Is that balcony window still open? [Goes to close it.]
LEONORA [aside]: (What anguish!)
MARQUIS [turning to her]:
 Have you no word of affection? Why so sad?
LEONORA: Father, my Lord . . .
MARQUIS: The pure country air

has brought peace to your heart.

You have given up that foreigner unworthy of you.

Let me take care

of the future. Trust your father,

who loves you so!
LEONORA: Ah, father!
MARQUIS: Well, what troubles you?

Do not weep.
LEONORA: (I feel so guilty!)
MARQUIS: I'll leave you.
LEONORA [throwing herself effusively into her father's arms]: Ah, father!
MARQUIS: Heaven bless you. Good night.
LEONORA: Good night!
[The MARQUIS kisses her, takes up the candle, and goes into his room.]
Norman Treigle (bs-b), Marquis of Calatrava; Zinka Milanov (s), Donna Leonora; New Orleans Symphony Orchestra, Walter Herbert, cond. Live performance, March 12, 1953
Giovanni Foiani (bs), Marquis of Calatrava; Leontyne Price (s), Donna Leonora; RCA Italiana Orchestra, Thomas Schippers, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded July-Aug. 1964 (stereo)

But he's not simply a doting, overprotective father. He's a monster, a stifling tyrant, and a racist bigot who has driven Leonora to her plan to elope with her beloved Don Alvaro, a nobleman of half-Incan extraction. Leonora is so filled with hesitation that her father is alerted and interrupts the planned departure.

La Forza del destino, Act I,
Marquis of Calatrava: "Vil seduttor"

After repeated blows, the door on the left opens, and the Marquis of Calatrava enters in a rage, brandishing a sword; he is followed by two servants carrying lamps.

MARQUIS: Vile seducer! Shameless daughter!
throwing herself at his feet]: 
No, father -
MARQUIS [repulsing her]: No longer am I your father!
ALVARO [to the Marquis]: I alone am the guilty one.

[Baring his chest.] Strike -- take your revenge!
MARQUIS [to Don Alvaro]: No, your conduct

shows the baseness of your origins.
ALVARO [offended]: My lord!
MARQUIS [to his daughter]: Stand aside.

[To the servants.] Arrest the scoundrel!
ALVARO [again taking out the pistol; to the servants, who back away]: Beware,
if either of you moves . . .
LEONORA [running to him]: Alvaro -- heavens, what are you doing?
ALVARO [to the MARQUIS]: I yield to you alone. Strike!
MARQUIS: Die by my hand? Let such a life
be ended by that of the executioner!
ALVARO: My Lord of Calatrava! Pure as the angels

is your daughter -- I swear it; I alone am guilty. Let the suspicion

aroused by my boldness be removed along with my life.

Here I stand, unarmed . . .
[He throws down the pistol; as it strikes the ground, it goes off, mortally wounding the MARQUIS.]
MARQUIS: I am dying!
ALVARO [desperately]: Fatal weapon!
LEONORA [running to her father's side]: Help!
MARQUIS [to LEONORA]: Get away from me! The sight of you sullies my death.
LEONORA: Father!
MARQUIS: I curse you!
He falls into the arms of his servants.
LEONORA [in desperation]: Heaven, have mercy!
ALVARO: Oh, cruel destiny!
[The servants carry the MARQUIS to his apartments while ALVARO drags the unfortunate LEONORA with him towards the balcony.]
Norman Treigle (bs-b), Marquis of Calatrava; Zinka Milanov (s), Donna Leonora; Mario del Monaco (t), Don Alvaro; New Orleans Symphony Orchestra, Walter Herbert, cond. Live performance, March 12, 1953
Giovanni Foiani (bs), Marquis of Calatrava; Leontyne Price (s), Donna Leonora; Richard Tucker (t), Don Alvaro; RCA Italiana Orchestra, Thomas Schippers, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded July-Aug. 1964 (stereo)


And they're treated as if they are criminals, of the most sordid sort. Friday night we heard some of Leonora's arrival at the monastery where she seeks nothing more than oblivion. Now we're going to hear the whole of her aria, and then we'll hear the whole of her interview with the kindly Padre Guardiano.

For these excerpts we introduce two more new Leonoras. Mirella Freni as a lyric soprano really had no business singing this heavy a role, but she managed it creditably enough to be worth hearing, I think, especially as a change of pace from the likes of Leontyne Price, Renata Tebaldi, and Maria Caniglia, whom we heard last night, and Zinka Milanov, whom we heard (briefly) earlier today. I might have preferred to place Freni's performances after a vocally more conventional Leonora, but since I'm pairing her today with Maria Callas, I'm not going to ask her to be heard after that; the Forza Leonora seems to me one of Callas's really outstanding studio opera recordings.

La Forza del destino: Act II, Scene 2, Scene, Leonora, "Son giunta" . . . "Madre, pietosa Vergine" . . . "Deh, non m'abbandonar, pietà, pietà di me, Signore"
A small level clearing on the slope of a steep mountain. Cliffs and precipices on the right; center, the façade of the church of Our Lady of the Angels; left, the door of the monastery, in the middle of which is a small grille, and beside which is a bell rope. Above is a small projecting shelter. Beyond the church, high mountains, with the village of Hornachuelos. The church door is closed, but lights can be seen through a large semicircular window above it. Slightly to the left of center a rough stone cross, worn by time, stands at the top of four steps. Bright moonlight illuminates the scene.

DONNA LEONORA enters exhausted, climbing in from the right. She is dressed as a man, in a wide-sleeved cloak, broad-brimmed hat and riding boots.

LEONORA: I'm here at last!
Thanks be to Thee, O God!
This is my last refuge! I am here!
I am trembling! My dreadful story is known

at the inn -- my own brother was telling it!
If he had discovered me! Heavens! He said

that Don Alvaro was sailing to the West!
He did not fall dead that night
when I, soaked in my father's blood,
followed him, but lost him! And now he leaves me,
he flees from me! Ah, I cannot bear such anguish!
She falls to her knees.
Mother, merciful Virgin,
forgive my sin.
Help me to erase that ingrate
from my heart.
In this seclusion
I will expiate my guilt.
Have mercy on me, Lord.
, do not abandon me,
mercy, mercy on me, Lord!
Oh, do not abandon, ah!
mercy, mercy on me, Lord!
[Inside the monastery, the organ accompanies the monks singing their morning prayers.]
MONKS: Venite, adoremus et procedamus
ante Deum ploremus,
ploreumus coram Domino,
coram Domino qui facit nos.

LEONORA [over the monks' prayer]: What sublime songs,
the harmonies of the organ,
which like incense ascend
to God in his firmaments,
inspire this soul
with faith, hope, and calm.
Mirella Freni (s), Donna Leonora; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Riccardo Muti, cond. EMI, recorded July 6-15, 1986 (stereo)
Maria Callas (s), Donna Leonora; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded Aug. 17-24, 1954

We're skipping Leonora's first contact with the dour and sour Brother Melitone, in which she insists on speaking with the Superior of the monastery. Finally Melitone brings Padre Guardiano. Again, we heard climactic moments from the Leonora-Guardiano scene Friday night.

La Forza del destino, Act II, Scene 2: "Chi mi cerca?" . . . "Venite fidente all croce" . . . "Più tranquillo l'alma sento"
PADRE GUARDIANO: Who is asking for me?
LEONORA: It is a secret.
PADRE GUARDIANO: Leave us, Melitone.
FRA MELITONE [as he goes]: (Always secrets!
And only these holy men must know them!
We're so many cabbages!)
What are you muttering?
FRA MELITONE: Oh, I was saying that the door is heavy
and makes a noise.
FRA MELITONE: (He's asserting his authority!)
[He goes back into the monastery, leaving the door ajar.]

PADRE GUARDIANO: Now we are alone . . .
LEONORA: I am a woman.
PADRE GUARDIANO: A woman at this hour! Good Lord!
LEONORA: One unhappy, deceived, rejected,
accursed by both earth and heaven,
who throws herself in tears at your feet
and begs you to rescue her from hell.
PADRE GUARDIANO: How can a poor monk do that?
LEONORA: Did Father Cleto not send you a note?
PADRE GUARDIANO [surprised]: 
Then you are Leonora di Vargas!
LEONORA: You shudder!
PADRE GUARDIANO: No. Come, trusting, to the cross.
There the voice of heaven will inspire you.
[LEONORA kneels at the foot of the cross and kisses it; then, less agitated, she turns to PADRE GUARDIANO.]
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.
PADRE GUARDIANO: Always in vain here
has Satan's ardor been addressed.
LEONORA: That is why I seek my tomb here

among the rocks, where another woman lived.
PADRE GUARDIANO: What! You know of her?
LEONORA: Cleto told me.
: And you wish … ?
: To give myself to God.
: Woe to him who lets himself be misled

by the delirium of a moment!

Regret would prove fatal

for one so young as you.
LEONORA: I feel my soul more tranquil

since I tread this ground, &c.
Ah! no!
PADRE GUARDIANO: Woe to him who lets himself be misled.

Who can read into the future?

Who can tell your heart won't change?

And your lover?
LEONORA: He killed my father

by accident.
PADRE GUARDIANO: And your brother?
LEONORA: He has sworn

that I shall die by his hand.
PADRE GUARDIANO: Better that a convent should open

its holy doors to you.
LEONORA: A convent? No.
If you drive this penitent away

I shall wander through the rocks crying for help,

begging refuge from the mountains, food from the woods,

until the beasts take pity and end my woe
Ah yes, here have I heard the voice of heaven:

"Take refuge in the shadow of this cross.“

And you drive me away'?
She runs to embrace the cross.]

This is my haven;

who shall take this solace from me?
PADRE GUARDIANO: (Glory to Thee, O merciful God,

Omnipotent Father of the wretched,

the spheres are whose footstool!

Thy will be done!)
LEONORA: Here I have heard the voice of heaven:

“Take refuge in the shadow of this Cross” . . .

This my haven;

who shall take this solace from me?
PADRE GUARDIANO: Your decision is firm?
It is.
PADRE GUARDIANO: May God receive you then!
Divine compassion!
PADRE GUARDIANO: Only I shall know who you are.

Among the rocks is a cave: there you will stay.

Near a spring, each seventh day,

I myself will set down a frugal meal.
LEONORA: Let us go there.

In the remainder of the scene, GUARDIANO orders MELiTONE to have the brothers assemble with candles, then tells LEONORA that in the morning she will go on foot to her refuge and invokes God's blessing on her.
Paul Plishka (b), Padre Guardiano; Mirella Freni (s), Donna Leonora; Sesto Bruscantini (b), Fra Melitone; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Riccardo Muti, cond. EMI, recorded July 6-15, 1986 (stereo)
Nicola Zaccaria (bs), Padre Guardiano; Maria Callas (s), Donna Leonora; Renato Capecchi (b), Fra Melitone; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded Aug. 17-24, 1954


Alvaro, now known as Father Rafaelle, has by chance retreated to the very monastery where Leonora has sought refuge, neither knowing of the other's presence there. We heard part of the "Invano, Alvaro" confrontation Friday night, and now hear the whole thing.

Act IV, Scene 1, Scene, Don Carlo-Don Alvaro, "Invano, Alvaro, ti celasti al mondo"
CARLO: In vain, Alvaro, have you concealed yourself
from the world, and hypocritically made
a monk's habit a shield for your baseness.
Hatred and the thirst for revenge have pointed me
the way to the monastery where you are hiding.
There will be no one here to intervene between us.
Blood, your blood alone, can wash away
the outrage that stained my honor;
and I will spill it all, I swear to God!
DON ALVARO [entering, in monastic robe]: Brother.
DON CARLO: Recognize me!
DON ALVARO: Don Carlo! You! Alive!
DON CARLO: For five years I've been on your trail.
I find you, ah, finally I find you!
With blood alone is it possible to cancel
the infamy and the crime.
That I should punish you is written
in the book of destiny.
You were a gallant soldier, now a monk,
you have no weapon here.
I must spill your blood.
Choose, I've brought two swords.
[DON CARLO offers DON ALVARO the choice of two swords.]
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.
DON CARLO: Neither the monk's habit
nor this deserted place,
coward, can protect you.
DON ALVARO: Coward! Such an assertion . . .
No! No! Assist me, Lord!
DON ALVARO: Let threats and fiery words
be carried away on the winds.
Forgive me, mercy!
o brother, mercy!
Why offend so much
someone who was only ill-fortuned?
Oh, let us bow our heads to fate;
O brother, mercy, mercy!
DON CARLO: You profane that name,
you profane, &c.
DON ALVARO: O brother, mercy, mercy, &c.
DON CARLO: Ah, you left me a sister
who, betrayed, was abandoned
to infamy, to dishonor.
ALVARO: No, she was not dishonored --
I swear it to you as a priest.
On earth, I adored her
as one can love in heaven.
I love her still; if she still loves me,
my heart asks for nothing more.
CARLO: My rage is not to be placated
by lying and cowardly words;
take up a sword, traitor,
and do battle with me!
ALVARO: If remorse and tears
no longer plead for me,
I will do what no one has ever seen me do --
throw myself at your feet!
He does so.
CARLO: Ah, you have proved the stain
on your escutcheon by this act.
ALVARO leaping to his feet in fury]:
It shines brighter than a jewel.
CARLO: It is tinted with your half-breed's blood.
ALVARO [unable to restrain himself]:
You lie in your throat!
Give me a sword, a sword -- lead on!
[He snatches one from his hand.]
CARLO: At last! [Setting out.]
ALVARO [recovering himself]: No -- the devil
shall not triumph. Go, leave me.
[He throws down his sword.]
CARLO: So you mock me?
CARLO: If now, coward, you lack courage
to measure swords with me,
I condemn you to dishonor.
He slaps his face.
ALVARO: in a fury
Ah, now you have sealed your fate!
[Seizing the sword again] Death!

Ah! death, come forth to death! Let us go!
CARLO: Death . . . death to both!

Ah! death, come forth to death! Let us go!
[They rush off.]
Ettore Bastianini (b), Don Carlo; Franco Corelli (t), Don Alvaro; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Nello Santi, cond. Live performance, Feb. 6, 1965
Giorgio Zancanaro (b), Don Carlo; Plácido Domingo (t), Don Alvaro; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Riccardo Muti, cond. EMi, recorded July 6-15, 1986 (stereo)


Even the oblivion Leonora sought has eluded her in her solitary refuge. I went around and around on "Pace, pace," targeting a whole bunch of performances, but finally decided that it was impossible to not include any of the trio of Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, and Leontyne Price. Since I had already made the sound file for Julia Varady's performance, I've included it as well, if only for fans of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's Verdi conducting.

La Forza del destino, Act IV, Scene 2: Donna Leonora, "Pace, pace, pace, mio Dio"
A valley amid precipitous rocks, traversed by a stream. In the background, to the spectator's left, is a cave with a practicable door, above which is a bell that can be rung from within. The sun is going down. The scene darkens slowly; the moon appears, extremely bright. DONNA LEONORA, pale and worn, emerges from the cave in a state of great agitation.

Peace, peace, O God!
[She comes down.]
Cruel misfortune
compels me, alas, to languish;
my suffering has lasted for so many years,
as profound as on the first day.
Peace, peace, O God!
I loved him, it is true! But God had blessed him
with such beauty and courage
that I love him still, and cannot efface his image
from my heart.
Fatal destiny! A crime
has divided us down here!
Alvaro, I love you and in heaven above it is written
that I shall never see you again!
O God, God, let me die, for only death
can bring me peace.
In vain this soul of mine here sought peace,
a prey to so much woe.
[She goes to a rock on which the superior has left food for her.]
Wretched bread, you come to prolong
my inconsolable life.
But who comes here,
daring to profane this sacred retreat?
A curse! A curse!
[She retreats rapidly into the cave, closing it behind her.]
Maria Callas (s), Donna Leonora; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded Aug. 17-24, 1954
Renata Tebaldi (s), Donna Leonora; Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia (Rome), Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Decca, summer 1955 (stereo)
Leontyne Price (s), Donna Leonora; RCA Italiana Orchestra, Thomas Schippers, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded July-Aug. 1964 (stereo)
Julia Varady (s), Donna Leonora; Bavarian State Orchestra, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, cond. Orfeo, recorded January 1995 (stereo)


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