by Giuseppe Verdi
, "The Force of Destiny
", first performed on 10th November 1862 in St Petersburg
. It is a tragic
tale of love, curses, oaths, death, loyalty, betrayal, disguise, and so on: unusually tragic in this regard even by the usual standards of opera. It contains some of Verdi's most powerful music, constantly conveying the strength of the tragedy: all summed up in the magnificent overture
The Marchese di Calatrava (bass) has two children Leonora (sop.), and Don Carlo (bar.), and Leonora is in love with Don Alvaro (tenor). The action begins with their elopement, but the lovers are discovered by Calatrava. By accident Don Alvaro's pistol goes off as he throws it aside, killing Calatrava, who pronounces a curse in his daughter as he dies.
The lovers have fled separately, and in Act 2 Leonora comes looking for Don Alvaro, while Don Carlo has sworn to kill her. She is disguised as a man (since women were not permitted to travel alone); she sees her brother in a tavern, finding that her story is known, so she flees. She seeks refuge in a monastery, and asks Padre Guardiano (bass) to let her spend her life as a hermit in a nearby cave. The monks pray that anyone who tries to hurt her may be cursed: thus setting us up for a more complex tragedy.
In Act 3, Don Alvaro is also in disguise, and he's off fighting in a war against the Austrians in the War of the Austrian Succession. Coincidentally so is Don Carlo, and Alvaro saves his life, and they swear eternal friendship. This lasts until Alvaro is wounded and asks Carlo to destroy some of his letters. Among them Carlo finds a picture of Leonora, and swears eternal enmity on his former eternal friend. They have a duel, Alvaro wounds Carlo, and flees to the monastery.
There it remains for some years, with the two lovers lying low, being quiet and religious, both under assumed identities and not aware of each other being alive and nearby. Meanwhile the hot-headed Don Carlo has by no means given up thoughts of vengeance. Finally in Act 4 he discovers Alvaro, who is now Father Raphael, and by taunting he gets him to come out and fight. Alvaro and Carlo fight again, Alvaro wounds Carlo again, and this time he does it for keeps. But because of his act of violence he can't give his dying foe absolution, believing he has lost the status of a holy man; so he sends for a hermit who is known to live in a nearby cave. The greatest aria of the opera is Leonora's Pace, pace, mio Dio. Then her dying brother stabs her to death.
The original 1862 ending had everyone dead, since Don Alvaro shoots, stabs, poisons, and garrottes himself as he throws himself over a cliff under a trolleybus -- well, maybe not, but whatever you could get away with on an opera stage. The pile of corpses was so high even by opera standards for 1862 that in 1869 Verdi revised it and made Alvaro return to religion and seek forgiveness with the help of Padre Guardiano.
There is a bit of comic relief given by Trabuco (tenor), who is a muleteer in the tavern scene and a pedlar later. In his letters with his librettist, Verdi had this character called Ebreo (Jew), and it's fortunate for his later reputation that this name and too-obvious stereotyping wasn't adopted. Oddly, Alvaro himself is an Inca prince.
The libretto is by Verdi's regular collaborator Francesco Piave. It's based on a Spanish play Don Alvaro, ó La Fuerzo del Sino by the Duke of Rivas. In its first performance at the Court Theatre, St Petersburg, in 1862, commissioned by Emperor Alexander II, Caroline Barbot created Leonora and Enrico Tamberlick (or Tamberlik) created Don Alvaro. The Leonora was originally to have been Emma Grua, but she fell ill in the severe Russian winter. The premiere was delayed, and by the time it happened the Tsar was ill too. He attended the fourth performance, and being much pleased with it he awarded Verdi the Royal Order of St Stanislaus.
Its Italian premiere was at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on 7th February 1863 under the title Don Alvaro; then it went on at the Academy of Music, New York on 24th February 1865, and Her Majesty's Theatre, London on 22nd June 1867.
His previous opera was Un ballo in maschera (1859), and his next was Don Carlos (1867). The comparatively long gap in Verdi's productivity was because the Risorgimento had taken place and Verdi was now senator for his hometown Busseto in the parliament of the newly unified Italy.
Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera
Tonight's performance at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, broadcast on Radio 3 with interval talks