Review by: Robert Levine
Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 7
What does it say that of the six available videos of this opera, the two best were made in 1958 and 1978? Something about the Verdian style and grand Verdi voices, I’m sure, but I’ll leave the details to you. The Price/Giacomini performance from the Met is a pretty boring affair, the Urmana/Giordani perfectly acceptable but thrill-free, and the Gorchakova/Gergiev/St. Petersburg original version is both in another class and not particularly idiomatic. Both Hardy DVDs–the ’58 from Naples with Tebaldi and Corelli, and this one, from La Scala in 1978, present the opera as the “real thing”.
Real, juicy Mediterranean voices inhabit both performances. The former is in black and white, with tacky, painted backdrop-sets, while the new one is in color and has grand (for its time) sets by Renato Guttoso. Some surreal lighting and choices (the background of the Inn Scene has blue trees) spice up the look, and the huge crucifix on an otherwise bare stage for the “Vergine degli angeli” scene is very effective. Curtains drop, stage front, for some scenes so that the following scenes can return to three-dimensionality. Hardly ground-breaking, but good enough. The acting is pretty much of the stand-and-deliver variety, but with a cast like this (ditto for the Naples ’58), standing and delivering will do.
Montserrat Caballé as Leonora is precisely what one would hope for. The voice is in near-pristine shape–the occasional attack on a loud high note early on can be vicious, but she sings with unusual commitment (not that the role has many nuances), glorious tone, and her entire arsenal of tricks: long-breathed phrases, diminuendos, high, floated pianissimo, grand chest voice. She even sings most of the words, rarely relying on “ah” sounds for high notes. The sound is huge and major-league and her comportment–acting is the wrong word–is regal. She sings the “Vergine degli angeli” with her back to the audience and the sound is as ethereal as you ever wanted it to be.
The 35-year-old José Carreras, looking like a teenager, sings the heck out of Don Alvaro, and now in hindsight it’s clear that he gave too much. But what a performance! Since the opera is given complete, it also includes the “Sleale!” duet, which comes dangerously soon after “Solenne in quest’ora” and is therefore usually cut or moved: it is very close to real dramatic tenor territory. Carreras holds nothing back. His chemistry with Caballé in the first scene is delightful and they sing beautifully together–and he is just as good in the three duets with baritone Piero Cappuccilli, who sings Don Carlo.
Cappuccilli’s gigantic voice, secure top, and generally machismo stance is ideal for this part and the audience adores him as much as they do their soprano and tenor. Nicolai Ghiaurov, wearing a silly beard and wig, intones Padre Guardiano’s music as if it came from heaven; the voice just rolls out of him like the Red Sea. Maria Luisa Nave’s Preziosilla is about as well sung as ever, but those moments still go on too long. Ditto the Fra Melitone scenes, but Sesto Bruscantini is terrific in the part. The rest of the cast is at La Scala’s best, with Giovanni Foiani as a dark, serious Marquis de Calatrava.
Giuseppe Patané leads a wonderful performance, and the orchestra, whom we see playing during the overture, is at its best, as is the chorus. The picture is somewhat grainy but very watchable; there are a couple of blips but none of consequence. The sound is not perfect, but it’s still very fine. Subtitles are available in Italian, English, French, and Spanish. Yes, you must own this–they’re not making Forzas like this anymore. [3/15/2011]
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: This one
GIUSEPPE VERDI - La forza del destino