La forza del destino (1958)
(San Carlo, Naples, 1958, live). 157m. Corelli, Tebaldi, Bastianini, Christoff, Dominguez, Capecchi; Molinari Pradelli. B&W
PAL VHS Only
This is a restored print. Compared to the competing version, it is more detailed, less washed out (with true blacks and whites and appropriate contrast) and, particularly in later scenes, much less “snow.”
“While the Bel Canto Society print is described as ‘restored’ (with more detail and better contrast than the earlier issue from Legato), it actually appears to be a ‘direct’ transfer from an archival copy!”–Melvin Jahn, Tower Records Guide to the Classics on Video
This Forza was rated among the ten best opera videos by F. Paul Driscoll and Albert Innaurato, both of Opera News
David McKee, reviewing in Opera News:
“Next to this kinescope from the vaults of RAI, the Three Tenors pale. This is a performance from a time when people were sure of what opera was, and it’s sung and played with significance, as an act of faith.
“Renata Tebaldi’s Leonora is a model of Verdi singing, with rich tone, long-breathed phrasing and expressive portamento. The soprano’s legato is splendid, especially in ‘La Vergine degli angeli,’ and some intermittent harshness in the upper register does not impede a glorious B-flat to crown a prize version of ‘Pace, mio dio.’…Sweeping aside a competing Met version (Paramount), with Leontyne Price and Giuseppe Giacomini in woeful form, this is now the Forza of choice.”
Will Crutchfield, reviewing in The New York Times
“What a flow, and what a sound!
…This is a must-have. If you’re over 50 and think you might be romanticizing your memories; if you’re young and think the old-timers are just trying to intimidate you with their stories; if you wonder why Mayor Giuliani started an opera club in his high school–and, especially, if the beauty of the human voice means a lot to you–get the video.
“…Forza is a big opera. Here it is with six ripe, juicy, unstrained voices, voices that can handle the music and thrive on it, that can give you the hard parts and come back for more. All the voices are big; all the singing is easy. It’s the Big Easy. Message: We sing….
“There is sincerity of great proportions at work here [in Tebaldi’s performance]. When she kneels to thank the Father Superior who has granted her asylum…or when she cries down curses on the unknown intruders on that hermitage at the end…she is precisely riveting.
“And she really did have the voice of an angel. What fine texture; what depth and perspective and shine! The ear handles her voice as the hands would a huge drapery of thick velvet whose edges are out of reach and whose folds seem infinite. When her high notes were good–they were very good on this night–they had a combination of hardness at the core and softness on the surface that is pretty close to ideal. The series of high B’s in the duet with Christoff is as exciting as a medal-winning Olympic performance.
“Corelli had an astonishing liquidity and freshness of tone, and he’s at his best here. Nothing, high or low, loud or soft, ah or ee, gives him trouble; nothing even approaches the limits of his capacity. The video occasionally betrays his infamous nervousness, but even so, a measure of excitement comes from seeing him stand there onstage, before the public in the heat of performance, producing small miracles of vocal generosity in phrase after phrase. In the great duet ‘Solenne in quest’ora,’ he makes, twice, an open-throated decrescendo on top A that sent me, both times, to the rewind button.
“So did Capecchi’s utter poise of bearing in the difficult last line of the duet between the comic Friar Melitone and the grave Father Superior. Capecchi sang some standard baritone leads but mostly comic parts; the capacities he displays here would make anyone who mustered them today the undisputed leading Verdi baritone of the world. For that matter the bit-part singers who do the Marquis and the Alcade sound like leading-baritone material.
“If they did not do so then, Bastianini was one of the reasons, with the same virtues in a voice even more beautiful, commanding, solid. Even the throwaway lines he sings in his student disguise announce an important presence. He died young because he refused throat operations that might have saved his life but ruined his voice; the same sense of serious stakes exists within the tone itself. Christoff has the magnificence of granite. Dominguez is vibrant, healthy, lively, sensual, again easy….
“At the beginning of the video, I was mostly astonished and delighted by the quality of the singing. At the end, I was more moved by the opera itself than I can remember in any performance (and I’ve heard some terrific ones)….
“Try this performance through to the end, and see whether the final meeting of the two lovers, so long sundered, does not seem chilling; whether Leonora’s devotion to her solitude does not seem heroic and its violation tragic; whether the Father Superior’s final benediction does not seem a balm so necessary that nothing less than the Rembrandtian concentration and shading Christoff finds for it could forestall despair.”
Albert Innaurato, reviewing in The Metropolitan Opera Guide to Opera on Video, edited by Paul Gruber:
“This was a remarkable find. The picture quality is somewhat bleached and grainy but is certainly watchable; faces in particular are clear. As in most Italian productions of this period the ‘Sleale!’ duet is omitted.
“The consumer might want to be cautious; there are no subtitles and no information about the plot comes with the video. Perhaps this is a way of separating the opera lover from the channel surfer whose frame of reference stops with the Three Tenors.
“This was probably a routine night by the standards of the time but those standards have disappeared so totally the video has the preciousness of a revelatory artifact from the distant past. Were too many videos of this kind to surface a lot of the writing about opera in the past forty years–all that nonsense about some of the individuals shown here and about the school they represent in general–would have to be discarded. Directors and their flacks are apt to insist all singers of this style were fat and inexpressive. But look again: one singer after another is extraordinarily good looking–cosmetically speaking, everyone here would be right at home on the big or small screen.
“That doesn’t even begin to address the amazing quality of these voices. Conductors and their flacks will mutter about that. If there were singers like this today a good many of our ‘authentic’ maestros would be teaching. Tebaldi, continually responsive with a beautiful face, floods the opera house with glorious tone as easily as anyone else would breathe. In the murderous tessitura of the convent scene her sound is big, magnificently focused, and utterly under control. When she floats a mezza voce line in ‘La vergine degl’angeli’ she fills the theater with a soft but very present radiance. But there is no fussing, none of the tics and saves we see in so many contemporary singers. She is powerfully expressive because everything is organic; her ‘acting’ proceeds from her singing, which is rooted in the music.
“Astoundingly, this may not have been everybody’s ideal of a great cast at the time; radishes are thrown onstage after Corelli and Bastianini have sung ‘Solenne in quest’ora’ magnificently. Corelli, with his glorious sound and stunning good looks (he looks like a movie star, only taller), was no del Monaco or di Stefano. In fact Milanov fans and Callas fanatics would have complaints about Tebaldi. Dominguez, the Preziosilla, was a second stringer, and yet she is so sexy, humorous, and vocally secure in this difficult part one wants to reevaluate her immediately.
“The ‘acting’ here is of the best kind in opera, securely rooted in the music, a complement to the powerful expression of the singing. But the unanimity of style that binds everyone here, the confidence and love for this opera and for opera in general, are far more revealing than any half-dozen Oliviers or Meryl Streeps would have been.
“Of course there are a few amusing touches: the somewhat wheezy-looking backdrops were not meant to be scrutinized by a camera. Corelli regularly dwarfs the painted mountains in the background. The great bass, Christoff, is wearing what looks like half the cotton output in Italy on his face, and his high white wig blends oddly with the painted clouds behind him (when he first enters, Tebaldi shoots him a look of sheer shock bordering on hilarity; the get-up must have been a last-minute improvisation). But in a way, all of that seems more human, ‘realer’ in a stage representation than the small screen mimetics we’ve been taught to endorse in the opera house.”