Ties with the 1958 San Carlo performance as the best Forza I've seen
I have always had a fondness for Verdi's La Forza Del Destino, because the music is so incredible. The story may be somewhat sprawling, but it does have many compelling scenes with the scenes between Alvaro and Carlo standing out. I've seen five productions, the 1984 one with Price, Giacomini, Nucci and Giaotti, the 1996 one with Domingo, Sweet and Chernov, the 1981 one with Tomowa-Sintow, Luchetti, Wixell and Plishka, the 1958 one with Tebaldi, Corelli, Bastianini and Christoff and this one with Caballe, Carreras, Cappucilli and Ghiaurov. I loved all of these, but while neither are completely perfect, the best ones in terms of musicality and casting are the 1958 San Carlo performance and this 1978 La Scala performance.
Visually, the production is quite dark in terms of lighting, but still suitably atmospheric with minimalist settings and appealing traditional costumes. The picture quality like the lighting is quite dark but still good and the camera work is skillful. On a musical level, the performance is amazing. The orchestra are superb with the highlights being the Overture(Verdi's best too), Morrir Tremenda Cosa...Urna Fatale, La Vergine Degli Angeli and Pace, Pace Mio Dio. The chorus are balanced and pitched beautifully, with such an exquisite ethereal quality accompanying Caballe in La Vergine Degli Angeli. Giuseppe Patane's tempos are quite relaxed, but that doesn't stop him from being alert and sensitive in his conducting.
The staging is very good mostly. The scenes between Alvaro and Carlo are very exciting like the music promises them to be the finest being Solenne in Quest'Ora(Invanno Alvaro was darn intense too), Morrir Tremenda Cosa..Urna Fatale is wonderfully vengeful and La Vergine Degli Angeli is just heaven in every sense of the word. Leonora's death however could have been better staged, it seemed a little clumsy to me. The singing is wonderful. Montserrat Caballe mayn't have the ideal Spinto voice, with some notes that are on the strident side, but the performance is very committed and her heavenly pianissimos and supreme musicianship and phrasing are in full display. Pace Pace Mio Dio is very sincere, but Caballe for me is at her best during La Vergine Degli Angeli, like Milanov and Tebaldi before her that particular part of the opera really plays to her many strengths.
Jose Carreras was very young in this production, and he looks very handsome. His voice is still beautiful and musically used and he is wholly competent on stage. He mayn't be as intense as Domingo, as thrilling as Corelli or vocally sublime as Tucker, but this is one of the best I've seen him. Piero Cappucilli is a wonderful Don Carlo. Some people may criticise him for not being exciting or being too stolid, but for me while not as exciting as Milnes for example-though the best for this role is between Bastianini and Warren- I have seen him as this role, Iago, Renato, Di Luna and Posa and he always seems involved, in fact he's definitive to me as Iago and Renato. His performance is no exception, and he displays one of the more beautiful(if sometimes lacking character) voices and more refined techniques of any baritone, an amazing top and suitably forceful vocal expression.
Nicolai Ghiaurov has always been one of my favourites ever, and one of those singers that is effective both live and on recording. I have always loved him for his sumptuous bass voice, elegant legato, wonderful musicianship and a good stage presence, particularly as King Phillip, Gremin, Fiesco and Mephistopheles. He may sport one of the worst wigs and beards I have seen on an opera stage, but this is compensated wholly by his amazing singing- it literally rolls out of him- and his firm and sympathetic portrayal as Padre Guardiano, even if Christoff brought more psychological depth to the role. Sesto Bruscantini is a characterful Melitone and Maria Luisa Nave a very good Preziosilla.
Overall, one of the best Forzas I've seen, it may have one clumsy death scene and Ghiaurov on a bad hair day, but I don't think it matters too much when the music and singing is as good as it is. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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