|About this Recording
8.111322-24 - VERDI: Forza del destino (La) (Callas, Tucker, Serafin) (1954)
Great Opera Recordings
Opera in Four Acts
Donna Leonora - Maria Callas (soprano)
Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan
The present recording of La forza del destino was made by EMI [Columbia/Angel] under the imprimatur of La Scala, Milan, in the opera house during August 1954 and sessions were directed by Walter Legge. Callas sang Leonora on stage on six occasions only: four times in 1948 at Trieste and twice in 1954 at Ravenna. Although on that first occasion Il Lavoratore acclaimed her acting and, as she remembers, baritone Benvenuto Franci (1891-1985), who sang Don Carlo, complimented her, '[h]e said no one in Italy sings Verdi like me,' yet it did not become one of her popular rôles.
La forza del destino, although performed in Italy fairly regularly since the days of its composition, did not enter the international repertory until the famous revival at the Metropolitan, New York, in 1918 with a cast that included Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) and Rosa Ponselle (1897-1981), the latter in fact making her début in opera. Notwithstanding the contrast in pitch between Ponselle's more mezzo, even contralto-like timbre, there is something in common in the quality of Callas's and Ponselle's voices; Ponselle is one of the few sopranos Callas is known to have admired. As a child in her New York days she no doubt heard some of Ponselle's Met broadcasts and may have been trying, albeit unconsciously, to imitate her. In the early part of her career she undertook a number of Ponselle rôles, including Gioconda, Giulia in Spontini's La vestale, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, Maddalena in Giordano's Andrea Chénier and Norma, as well as Leonora in Forza. Legge encouraged her to record Leonora, for he had no interest in those then rarer works in which, by the time this recording was made, she had already enjoyed tumultuous successes, Verdi's Vespri siciliani and Macbeth, Rossini's Armida, and Cherubini's Medea. In these revivals she was the precursor in the change in taste.
Legge is quoted telling us, in On and Off the Record by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (1915-2006), how he was made almost sea-sick over Callas's tremulousness in Forza. It was a pity he did not attend more assiduously to much of the rest of the ensemble he offers beside her. The stylish quality of her singing comes in marked contrast to Elena Nicolai's blown-out and strident-toned Preziosilla; Richard Tucker's Alvaro with his unattractive tone and pedantic sounding Italian - why, we may ask, did Legge not engage Franco Corelli? Even if he had never heard him, Callas had already sung with him, and at this stage of Corelli's career he had no exclusive recording contract. Carlo Tagliabue stepped in at the last moment to replace Tito Gobbi's Don Carlo, and sounds every day of his 56 years. It tells us something of Legge's knowledge of Italian opera - or lack of it, that he should have supposed that Gobbi would have been prepared to sing a rôle requiring so little histrionic skill and yet be so demanding vocally. On stage Nicola Rossi-Lemeni looked well as Padre Guardiano, as I remember having seen him in the rôle, and his delivery has appropriate authority, but there is little resonance in his tone and his voice does not sound securely supported.
It is true that although Callas casts her Leonora in the grand manner and her breath spans are of a truly notable length, she was not able to sustain slow tempi without an obtrusive wobble becoming obvious. Nevertheless she makes us conscious of every section of Leonora's music, setting off the first scene in Act I with fitting simplicity. As Leonora bids her father goodnight, knowing it to be farewell, her voice exactly mirrors the music's minor tonality, rising on 'Ah, padre mio' from middle E to E flat at the top of the stave with untrammelled assurance. She reminds us of something written three quarters of a century ago by W.J. Henderson, dean of New York critics, in The Art of Singing: "The vocal music of today is not embroidered with runs, trills and ornaments, as the operas of the late 17th century were, but it does contain thousands of progressions which can be executed with perfect smoothness and fluency by the agile voice, but by the singer untrained in coloratura only awkwardly and uncertainly".
After Leonora's father retires she sings the aria 'Me, pellegrina ed orfana'. It is as attractive and expressive as either of her other two more celebrated arias, 'Madre, pietosa Vergine' and 'Pace, pace, mio Dio', yet, as is often the way in mid-period Verdi, it calls for a mastery of florid technique. Later in Act I in the duet with Alvaro beginning 'Ah no, dividerci il fato', we hear the difference between her fluency, her rhythmically exact and clean execution of dotted quavers and semi-quavers, and Tucker's aspirated heffalumping. In Act III, in the duet with Padre Guardiano, 'Più tranquilla', again she shows her just rendition of note values; each of them sung as Verdi specifies: contained within a perfect legato and yet she injects the subtlest rubato so giving it life. Under Serafin's direction she sings the two famous arias with appropriate grandeur, on a tragic scale, underlining Verdi's indications 'come un lamento' and 'con dolore'. Though she secures from the music the maximum of passion, this is not achieved without her voice becoming unsteady and the tone acidulous, especially on the many exposed sustained high phrases. A comparison with Zinka Milanov is interesting, since it was she who succeeded Ponselle as the most famous Leonora at the Met. Her voice, a full lyric dramatic soprano, has a singular beauty and smoothness of emission which commend her, particularly in 'Pace, pace, mio Dio'. Elsewhere in more difficult measures, like 'Me, pellegrina ed orfana', her singing is without the fluency and rhythmic exactitude which make Callas's Leonora, notwithstanding obvious flaws, so musically telling.
Although born in Bulgaria Elena Nicolai (1905-1993) studied at the Milan Conservatory and made her début in 1938 at the San Carlo Naples as Annina in Rosenkavalier but was soon undertaking leading rôles. From 1941, when she sang the Principessa in Adriana Lecouvreur at La Scala, Milan, for the next generation, she was established throughout Italy and its operatic dependencies in Spain and South America, as Amneris, Azucena, Adalgisa, Santuzza, and in translation, as Eboli, Carmen, Dalila, Ortrud in Lohengrin, once even venturing Brunilde in Valchiria (Die Walküre). By the 1950s and 1960s there were a number of other mezzo-sopranos active in Italy, including Ebe Stignani (1903-1974), Giulietta Simionato (b.1910), Fedora Barbieri (1918-2003) and Fiorenza Cossotto (b.1936), and by then her voice was past its best. Although she appeared with Callas on stage in Gioconda, Tristano e Isotta, Aida and Norma, this is the only recording they made together.
One of America's favourite tenors Richard Tucker (1913-1975), born Reuben Ticker, was only six when he began singing in a New York synagogue choir. After studying with a reputable tenor Paul Althouse, then Martino, Borghetti and Wilhousky, his first appearance in concert in New York took place in 1943. At first he joined a touring troupe, the Salmaggi Opera Company, making his début as Alfredo. His Metropolitan début followed in 1945 as Enzo in La Gioconda. In the course of more than a quarter of a century based there he sang 600-odd performances of more than thirty rôles, including among many Radames, Alvaro, Manrico, Cavaradossi and Canio. Elsewhere in the United States he appeared with companies in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He made occasional visits to Western Europe. In 1947 he sang Enzo with Callas's Gioconda at the Verona Arena. Subsequently he appeared at La Scala, Milan, Covent Garden, the Vienna Staatsoper and Comunale, Florence, and sang concerts in Italy, Israel and South America. Towards the end of his career, in 1973, he added Eléazar in Halévy's La Juive to his repertory. His most celebrated recording is his first, as Radames in a radio performance of Aida (1949), but less on his account than Toscanini, who conducts. He was also to have sung Manrico in the EMI/Angel Trovatore opposite Callas's Leonora but declined because of Karajan's Nazi associations.
Born in Mariano Comense near Milan Carlo Tagliabue (1898-1978) studied in Milan with Gennai and Guidotti and made his début at Lodi in 1922 as Amonasro. During the 20s he appeared in provincial seasons, in Florence, Palermo and Verona Arena, before making his debut at La Scala, Milan in 1930, as Kurvenal in Wagner's Tristano e Isotta. He remained with the company for twenty-three years and sang under de Sabata, Serafin, Guarnieri, Votto, Marinuzzi and Böhm in thirty-nine operas, including not only principal Verdi rôles in Nabucco, Rigoletto, Traviata, Trovatore, Vespri siciliani and Forza del destino, and in the standard repertory, Gioconda, Cavalleria rusticana, Pagliacci and L'amico Fritz, but also in Italian performances of Tannhäuser, Lohengrin and Parsifal. At Rome in 1934 he created Basilio in Respighi's Fiamma. As was the way then he also took part in a number of new operas, such as Lattuada's Sandra, Pizzetti's Lo straniero and Rocca's Morte di Frine. His last appearance at La Scala was in 1955 deputising for Bastianini as Germont in a performance of Visconti's legendary Traviata with Callas.
Following World War II Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (1920-1991) was one of the three important basses in Italy, with Boris Christoff and Cesare Siepi. Half Russian and born in Istanbul, he made his début in 1946 at La Fenice in Venice as Varlaam in Boris Godunov. In 1947 he went to the United States to appear with a new company in Chicago as Timur in Turandot, and there met Callas, who was to sing the title rôle. It folded, however, before it began. In New York they auditioned with the tenor Giovanni Zenatello, then retired, who was Artistic Director at Verona Arena. As a result in August Callas made her Italian début, as Gioconda, and Rossi-Lemeni was Alvise. In 1948 he sang at La Scala, Milan, and the San Carlo, Naples. In 1949, again with Callas, he appeared at the Colón in Buenos Aires. In the early 1950s his career took him to Covent Garden, London, San Francisco Opera, the Metropolitan New York, the Paris Opéra and, again with Callas, to the Lyric, Chicago. His stage personality was impressive, yet he did not establish himself at any of these. His voice had no ring on the tone and was not properly supported; air escaped through it like leaking gas. Although at first he sang Boris, Don Giovanni, Méphistophélès in Faust, Boito's Mefistofele, Filippo in Don Carlo, Guardiano in La forza del destino, Basilio in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Colline in La Bohème, Ramfis in Aida, Oroveso in Norma, and Giorgio in I puritani, by the mid-1950s he was undertaking buffo rôles: Caspar in Weber's Franco Cacciatore, Dulcamara, Selim in Rossini's Il turco in Italia, Becket in Pizzetti's Assassino nella cattedrale, and Lazaro di Jorio in La figlia di Jorio, Lunardo in Wolf-Ferrari's Quattro Rusteghi, Cerevek in Mussorgsky's La fiesta di Sorocinzi and Bloch's Macbeth. He appeared in several world premières and after 1965 became a stage director. For EMI [Columbia/Angel] he recorded Giorgio, Oroveso and Selim with Callas, for Cetra, Filippo, and, for Philips, Rossini's Mosé. He was married to the distinguished soprano Virginia Zeani.
Tullio Serafin (1878-1968), born at Rottanova di Cavarzere, near Venice, was one of the great conductors of Italian opera. After studying at the Milan Conservatory, at first he was a violinist in the orchestra at La Scala, Milan, then in 1900 at Ferrara began a career as conductor. Engagements followed in Turin and Rome. Through more than half a century he appeared at Covent Garden, London (1907, 1931, 1959-60), La Scala, Milan (1910-1914, 1917, 1918, 1940, 1946-7), Colón, Buenos Aires (1914, 1919, 1920, 1928, 1937, 1938, 1949, 1951), San Carlo, Naples (1922-3, 1940-1, 1949-58), Metropolitan, New York (1924-34), the Rome Opera (1934-43, 1962), Lyric Opera, Chicago (1955, 1957-58), and numerous other opera houses in Italy and abroad. His repertory was vast. He conducted conventional and unconventional operas as well as introducing a variety of new works, and worked with numerous famous singers, including Battistini, Chaliapin, Ponselle, Gigli, Callas and Sutherland. His recording career was exhaustive and embraced the HMV (1939) Verdi Requiem (Naxos 8.110159) as well as both Angel/Columbia Normas (1954 and 1960) with Callas.
[CD 1 / Track 1] The Overture opens with the repeated three-note Fate motif that is to return in the opera. Other elements are taken from the final duet of Alvaro and Carlo, from Leonora's second act prayer 'Madre, pietosa Vergine'and from her duet with the Padre Guardiano.
[1/2] The curtain rises on a room in the house of the Marchese di Calatrava in Seville. His daughter Leonora is preoccupied, as the Marchese enters to bid her goodnight. He asks why she is so sad, but she cannot answer, as he goes to his own room.
[1/3] Her maid, Curra, urges her not to hesitate in her planned elopement, since any failure will bring mortal danger to her lover, Don Alvaro.
[1/4] In her aria Me, pellegrina ed orfana, she sings of her future, far away from her own country and family.
[1/5] Midnight has struck and they hear the sound of a rider approaching. Now Don Alvaro makes his entrance, climbing over the balcony to hold his beloved Leonora in his arms. In a duet he urges her to make her escape from her father's house, since all is ready for their marriage.
[1/6] Leonora continues to hesitate, but finally decides to elope with her lover. As they are about to make their escape, Curra warns them that someone is coming.
[1/7] The Marchese enters, his sword drawn and followed by two servants, accusing Don Alvaro and Leonora. He tells his men to seize Don Alvaro, who draws his pistol, but then assures the Marchese of the innocence of his daughter. Refusing a duel, he throws his pistol down, but as it hits the floor it goes off, mortally wounding the Marchese, who curses his daughter, as he dies. Don Alvaro and Leonora make their escape.
[1/8] The second act is set in the village of Hornachuelos and the surrounding area. In the great kitchen of an inn the landlord and landlady are preparing a meal. The mayor is sitting by the fire and a student at the table. There are villagers and muleteers, among these last Trabuco. A servant-girl is dancing with one of the muleteers. The three strokes of fate are heard and the dance of villagers and muleteers begins.
[1/9] Supper is ready and the landlady calls the company to table. The student, in fact Don Carlo in disguise, reveals, in an aside, that he is searching for his sister and her seducer. He says grace and the hostess serves the food, while a single couple continues to dance. Leonora, disguised as a man, now makes her hesitant entrance and, alarmed to see her brother, withdraws. The gypsy girl Preziosilla makes her lively entrance, offering to tell fortunes and urging the young men to join the war in Italy against the Germans.
[1/10] She finds the very idea of war inspiring, as does her audience, but breaks off her song to tell Don Carlo's fortune, which will be unlucky, realising that he is no student. She resumes her cheerful encouragement to conflict.
[1/11] A group of pilgrims passes by, praying for divine mercy and observed by Leonora, who prays for her own safety.
[1/12] Don Carlo, watched by Leonora, questions the muleteer Trabuco as to the identity of the person he has brought with him, who has not joined them at supper. Trabuco tells him little. Don Carlo has his suspicions and goes on to tell his own supposed story.
[1/13] He is a student, he tells them, Pereda by name, from Salamanca, and is following his friend Vargas, whose father was murdered by his sister's seducer. The girl is now dead and the seducer fled to South America.
[1/14] Preziosilla clearly realises the identity of the student, but the mayor says it is late, and the company bid one another goodnight, while some renew the dance.
[1/15] The scene is a steep mountainside. On one side are precipitous rocks, by the façade of the Church of Our Lady of the Angels and its adjacent monastery. There is a bell-rope and the door of the monastery is shut. At one side is a weather-beaten stone cross. A light can be seen inside the monastery, while the scene itself is lit by moonlight. Donna Leonora approaches, dressed as a man, wearing a greatcoat, a hat and heavy boots. She thanks God that she has reached sanctuary, although she fears discovery, after her brother's revelations. She now knows Don Alvaro is alive, but imagines him, as her brother had said, in South America once more.
[1/16] In her aria 'Madre, pietosa Vergine', she prays to the Blessed Virgin for forgiveness, resolving to expiate her sin in this place. The voices of the friars are heard within, as she continues her anxious prayer. She rings the bell.
[1/17] Fra Melitone opens the little window in the door and questions her. Leonora asks for the Father Superior, but Fra Melitone is reluctant to give way. He shuts the window and leaves Leonora in doubt.
[1/18] The Padre Guardiano, summoned by Fra Melitone, now seeks to know Leonora's business, which she will not divulge in the presence of Fra Melitone, now dismissed by the Padre Guardiano.
[1/19] When they are alone, Leonora reveals that she is a woman, sent by Padre Cleto, and the Padre Guardiano now realises that she is Leonora di Vargas, bidding her kneel before the cross. She seeks refuge in a hermit's cave, as another penitent has done before her, there to find peace from her father's spirit.
[1/20] The Padre Guardiano agrees to allow her to occupy the hermitage and he will bring her food each day. She will see no-one, but there will be a bell she may ring in case of danger. As she enters, they pray for God's help.
[1/21] The doors of the great church now open and the sound of the organ is heard, as the friars enter, carrying candles, and the Padre Guardiano leads out Leonora, now dressed in a friar's habit. He tells the community of Leonora's decision, forbidding anyone to go near the hermit's cell, on pain of damnation.
[1/22] The community prays for the protection of the Blessed Virgin over Leonora.
[2/1] The third act is set in Italy near Velletri. It is a dark night and the scene is a wood. Voices are heard, the sound of gambling.
[2/2] Don Alvaro, who has enlisted in the Spanish regiment fighting in Italy, laments his fate, the loss of Leonora and the events that led to it. He tells of his parentage, his father's hopes in union with an Inca princess and his own misfortunes.
[2/3] He prays to the spirit of Leonora, whom he imagines dead, to help him in his ignominious exile.
[2/4] A cry of 'treachery' is heard and Don Alvaro rushes to the source of the noise. The clash of swords is heard and some officers are seen running in disorder. Don Alvaro now returns with Don Carlo, whose life he has saved and who has just joined the regiment. Don Carlo gives his name as Don Felice de Bornos and Don Alvaro replies, giving his name as Don Federico Herreros. They declare friendship in life and in death.
[2/5] Trumpets call the men to arms and Don Alvaro and Don Carlo are resolved to compete on the field of honour. It is morning and the sounds of battle are heard. An army surgeon looks out of the window to watch the fighting. He sees Don Alvaro fall wounded but helped by Don Carlo.
[2/6] Don Alvaro is carried in by four stretcher-bearers, followed by Don Carlo, covered with the dust of battle. A soldier brings in a case, which he leaves on a table. The Spaniards have been victorious and Don Carlo now reveals to Don Alvaro, who seems mortally wounded, his true identity, to the latter's dismay.
[2/7] Don Alvaro gives Don Carlo the keys to a case in which there are papers that must be burned, if he dies. The latter swears to carry out this charge and they bid each other farewell.
[2/8] The soldiers carry Don Alvaro into the adjacent room, leaving Don Carlo alone, but he now has doubts as to Don Alvaro's true identity, suspecting that he may be his sister's seducer. With the key, he opens the case and takes out a sealed paper, but his honour prevents him from reading it.
[2/9] His honour makes him hold back.
[2/10] He seeks, however, for further proof and finds in the case a portrait of Leonora. Certain now of Don Alvaro's identity, he welcomes the news from the surgeon that Don Alvaro will survive, since now he can take revenge, for his sister Leonora and his father.
[2/11] The scene is an army encampment, near Velletri. There are hawkers' stalls, selling food and drink. It is night and the place is deserted. A patrol enters cautiously, exploring the camp.
[2/12] They go and, as dawn breaks, They go and, as dawn breaks, Don Alvaro is seen, hoping and praying for peace of mind in his difficulties. Don Carlo approaches, hoping that the other is now cured of his wounds, but now reveals his recognition of the Don Alvaro as his enemy. At the same time he tells Don Alvaro that Leonora is still alive.
[2/13] Don Alvaro can hope for the bonds of marriage with his beloved, while Don Carlo declares his constant enmity and desire for revenge for the death of his father. He swears that his sister must die.
[2/14] Trumpets and drums are heard. The camp comes to life, with Spanish and Italian soldiers leaving their tents, taking their swords and weapons. Boys and soldiers play at dice and camp-followers sell food and drink. Preziosilla emerges, happy to tell fortunes and prophesy good luck in battle. The soldiers drink to the health of their leaders.
[2/15] Trabuco now appears, hawking his cheap wares, scissors, brooches, soap and the like, and buying from the men.
[2/16] Peasants appear, begging for bread. The women hawkers join a band of new recruits in a dance, a tarantella.
[2/17] They declare, with Preziosilla, that war brings folly.
[2/18] As the dance ends, Fra Melitone appears, coming from Spain to heal the wounded and seek alms, and, it seems, to deliver a sermon, inveighing against their behaviour and declaring them sewers of sin, with only the purging of this pitch able to bring peace, a pun that he repeats again and again, as the men seek to beat him.
[2/19] Preziosilla intervenes, telling them to let Fra Melitone go, and the act ends with the Rataplan chorus, imitating the sound of the drum in its rhythm.
[3/1] The fourth act opens in the monastery of Our Lady of the Angels, on the mountainside near Hornachuelos. The Padre Guardiano passes, reading his breviary, and beggars of all kinds are seen, holding their bowls and plates and seeking charity. They have been waiting for an hour and are hungry. [Fra Melitone emerges, wearing an apron and helped by a lay-brother to carry a great cooking-pot. The beggars press around him, seeking food, and he reproaches them with their fecundity, breeding instead of saying the rosary, as he loses his patience. The beggars regret the absence of Padre Raffaele, but Fra Melitone has had quite enough of the poor and soup. The Padre Guardiano intervenes, while the beggars praise Padre Raffaele, a holy man, a true saint, who treats them so well. Fra Melitone kicks the cooking-pot over and tells them to go, while they continue to praise the absent Padre Raffaele. He takes a white handkerchief from his sleeve and wipes his brow, once they have all gone. The Padre Guardiano urges humility and Fra Melitone goes on to comment on the strange behaviour of Padre Raffaele and wonders about his origin. The Padre Guardiano explains that Padre Raffaele, now to be clearly identified with Don Alvaro, is disillusioned with the world, from which he seeks refuge in prayer and vigils.] The bell sounds. Fra Melitone opens to Don Carlo, who seeks Padre Raffaele. He is told that there are two, one fat and deaf, the other dark in complexion. Don Carlo realises that he has found his quarry and now only Don Alvaro's blood can cleanse the stain on his honour.
[3/2] Don Alvaro comes in, recognised at once by Don Carlo, who seeks revenge, while Don Alvaro tries to resist the provocation offered, assuring him of the purity of Leonora, whom he still loves.
[3/3] Eventually, after pleading with him, Don Alvaro can stand no more of Don Carlo's insults and calls for a sword. Don Carlo strikes his enemy and now the two men fight.
[3/4] The final scene is set in the inaccessible place where Leonora has her cell, with the bell provided for any emergency. It is dusk and it grows darker, as the moon rises. Leonora is heard from within and then comes out, pale and distraught, praying to God for peace from her sufferings and lamenting the fate that parted her from her lover. Now she would prefer death, but it is in vain that she seeks peace. She goes towards the rock where the Padre Guardiano has left her food and now hears someone approaching, calling down a curse on whoever profanes the sacred place, as she retreats into her cave.
[3/5] The voice of Don Carlo is heard, calling for confession and the last rites, as he dies. Don Alvaro appears, his sword stained with blood. He casts it aside and approaches the hermitage, seeking help for the dying man. He is amazed when he finds that the hermit is his Leonora but now is forced to reveal that the man who is dying, killed by his hand, is her brother. Leonora goes out to tend her brother, but Don Carlo, as he dies, strikes her. She returns, wounded and supported by the Padre Guardiano. Don Alvaro inveighs against this vengeance of God.
[3/6] The Padre Guardiano tells him not to blaspheme but to give in to the will of God. Leonora, now dying, promises God's pardon: she will go before him to the promised land, where they will meet again. She dies with Alvaro's name on her lips.
The complete recording of Forza is presented as it was originally issued, without the brief "soup scene" between Melitone, Guardiano and the beggars that opens Act 4. This segment, lasting about six minutes, was recorded but cut from the original release due to LP side timing limitations. Many years later, it was restored to the recording; but since it has not yet fallen into the public domain, we are not presenting it in this reissue.
In its place, we are offering the complete 53-minute album of highlights from Forza that RCA Victor released the year after the Callas recording was made. This was transferred from original, first edition American pressings, while the complete opera came primarily from first edition British LPs.
Giuseppe Verdi: La forza del destino
Appendix: Highlights from La forza del destino with Zinka Milanov, Jan Peerce and Leonard Warren
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