Cher Public

Peace of my heart

The Met’s tragic decision to cancel this fall’s new Calixto Bieito production prompts “Trove Thursday” to leap into the breach with Verdi’s La Forza del Destino starring beloved soprano Aprile Millo as Leonora, a role she never performed at the Met. She is joined by Lando Bartolini, Giorgio Zancanaro, Cynthia Clarey and Kurt Rydl, conducted by Giuseppe Sinopoli

Since the first time I heard it, Forza has been in my top three-and-a-third Verdi operas, along with Don Carlo(s), Ernani (yes, Ernani) and the third act of Luisa Miller. I love Forza’s sweep and sprawl and that it’s as little about romantic or erotic love as an Italian opera can be. Its focus on regret, guilt, revenge and redemption I find very compelling. How many operas shed their soprano after the first act only to have her return with the big hit in the final scene? Or give three magnificent duets to the tenor and baritone in which they first love then hate each other? I even enjoy Preziosilla’s rousing interruptions but Melitone’s a bit less.

I have missed Forza which hasn’t been done at the Met since 2006. I was very lucky to have caught some brief late Forza-flourishing during my first couple of seasons attending the Met. As those Alvaro-Carlo confrontations are the heart of the opera for me, I relished seeing Carlo Bergonzi and Sherrill Milnes in my first-ever Forza followed by José Carreras and Renato Bruson the next year. Alas, their Leonoras weren’t so extraordinary: Leona Mitchell made lovely sounds but didn’t do much with the character while Grace Bumbry gave the most distracted, phoned-in performance I have ever seen by a major singer.

I bought a ticket for the new Met production in 1996 with Sharon Sweet, Placido Domingo and Vladmir Chernov but didn’t go—the stinky reviews? And Deborah Voigt as Leonora in the revival ten years later just didn’t make sense to me so I skipped it too. So I was really looking forward to experiencing Forza once again this season.

Unfortunately I missed out on much of the NYC-Millo love affair. Before I moved here in 1991 I heard her extraordinary Giselda in Opera Orchestra of New York’s 1986 I Lombardi with Bergonzi and Paul Plishka but didn’t manage to catch her interesting OONY projects later that decade which included Il Pirata and La Wally.

Once living here I wasn’t all that interested in the repertoire she was singing at the Met as I’ve never been a big Ballo or Aïda fan and have so far successfully avoided Chenier. Forza being absent from 1984 until 1996 likely explains why there was no local Millo Leonora. I did attend Don Carlo in 1992 with her and the rest of the Sony recording cast; she was fine but perhaps it wasn’t her best Verdi role.

I regret that her reunions with OONY in the early 2000s in Adriana Lecouvreur. La Gioconda and La Fanciulla del West never made it onto my calendar. But happily there are lots of “pirates” of many roles Millo didn’t record commercially and with which I have had to console myself including this rare, in-house Forza featuring some impressive colleagues.

Verdi: La forza del destino
Bavarian State Opera, Munich
9 February 1992
In-house recording

Leonora: Aprile Millo
Preziosilla: Cynthia Clarey
Don Alvaro: Lando Bartolini
Don Carlo di Vargas: Giuseppe Zancanaro
Padre Guardiano: Kurt Rydl
Fra Melitone: Bruno Pola

Conductor: Giuseppe Sinopoli

Forza can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the posting’s audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

More than 100 other “Trove Thursday” podcasts also remain available from iTunes for free, or via any RSS reader.

  • Armerjacquino

    Can’t wait to hear this but my eyebrow was raised at ‘How many operas shed their soprano after the first act only to have her return with the big hit in the final scene?’ Leonora has a fairly spectacular Act 2, with ‘Madre, Pietosa Vergine’ followed by the Padre Guardiano scene and ‘La Vergine degli Angeli’- one of those sections of an opera which seems almost designed to be your favourite side on the LP.

    • CCorwinNYC

      Oops I forgot to check. I am used to the first “act” ending with that chorus.

      • Armerjacquino

        Ha, it’s easily enough done. It was just an excuse to do a bit of fanboying for Act 2 Sc 2 really.

        Reminds me of a DSM I worked with recently who used to confuse the whole cast by calling ‘Act 3 beginners’ at the end of the only interval (which was accurate but disconcerting)

    • Re a favourite side… A friend of mine had a favourite side on his LP of Saint-Saëns’ 3rd symphony, to the point that he only played that one side, exclusively. He didn’t like the other as much. When I borrowed the LP, I discovered it was a freak pressing, with the same two movements on both sides.

      • manou

        This is a very Kafkaesque story.

      • fletcher

        Isn’t that symphony only two movements? … is that the joke?

        • Heheh, yes it is but no, as it’s in four distinct sections I forgot that! The LP just had identical sides.

  • grimoaldo2

    It is indeed bitterly disappointing that the Met cancelled the new Forza which was to have had Radvan in what I would imagine would be a fabulous role for her, I was looking forward to it so much.
    Thank you for this performance.
    If people have never heard the original 1862 St Petersburg version it may be interesting to compare
    There are lots of differences, the major one is the ending, originally Carlos stabbed Leonora onstage and he dies onstage also and then Alvaro throws himself off a cliff in the middle of a storm, it is really worth watching and hearing at least the original final scene, beginning at 2:36:15.
    Presumably Verdi decided the original ending was too over the top and composed the sublime trio we are used to in which Alvaro lives and is redeemed, but I think the original ending suits the drama better and actually makes the opera a greater work of art.

  • PCally

    Still crying over the lack of bieito at the met, especially since the (hopefully retired) met production is on my shortlist for stupidest productions I’ve ever seen at the met. I saw the eno forza and thought it was mostly fantastic.

    • Porgy Amor

      Not only retired but, I believe, destroyed. It was part of a big 2010 storage-clearing exercise of productions they had no plans to present again, and that no one else wanted.

      I agree with you. I have not seen anything worse on the Met stage from the last 25 years than that Forza. That is apart from the casting issues (both 1996 and 2006).

      Not that I’ve seen every possible candidate. I didn’t see the notorious Zambello Lucia in any fashion; it was gone quickly and never had a telecast. I’d believe it was better than the GdM Forza, though. At least Zambello apparently had thought about the piece. The Vick/Brown Trovatore is another bomb that I know only through legends. (RIP, Mr. Brown, who died this week and did a lot of more celebrated work.)

      • PCally

        Didn’t see the Lucia but I did see the Trovatore and while it was total filth, at least imo it was mildly entertaining to watch such a ridiculous production play out on stage (there were people laughing in the audience and the sheer number of stupid moon metaphors that occurred could have led to a great idea for a drinking game). The forza was just lazy and boring and the auto pilot casts made me wonder why anyone had bothered.

        • Funnily enough, for someone living in Paris, not NYC, I did see the Lucia. It wasn’t clear to me why people disliked it quite so much, but then I have corrupt, Eurotrash tastes. But I do remember being mildly bored and glad to get out.

          However, I also remember a lady at dinner after who, seeing the programme on the table I imagine, decided, as Americans do, to strike up conversation. But when we (there were two of us) said we’d been a bit bored, she, a June Anderson fan, could only conclude (indignantly) we were opera newbies. It was no use telling her we were both long-standing subscribers to the Paris Opera, the Châtelet, La Monnaie…

          • PCally

            Haha that reminds me of the time I saw Tristan in Munich slightly drunk and dosed off for half a minute and the person sitting next to me, also thinking I was newbie who didn’t understand what was happening started narrating…during the performance

          • Susan Szbornak

            I’d like to apologize in advance for Americans who strike up conversations. The audacity of it all.

      • Lindoro Almaviva

        The Zambello Luia not telecast? That’s plain wrong. Not only was it done in HD durng the 2009 season, it was released on DVD with Netrebko:

        Then in 2011 they presented it again with Dessay in HD during the 2011 season, and you can watch it here:

        I do not get the hatred for that production. Was it perfect? No, but it had interesting ideas. I liked it.

        • CCorwinNYC

          Metropolitan Opera House
          February 7, 2009 Matinee

          HD Transmission/Simulcast

          LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR {580}

          Lucia……………….Anna Netrebko
          Edgardo……………..Piotr Beczala
          Enrico………………Mariusz Kwiecien
          Raimondo…………….Ildar Abdrazakov
          Normanno…………….Michael Myers
          Alisa……………….Michaela Martens
          Arturo………………Colin Lee

          Flute Solo: Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson
          Harp Solo: Mariko Anraku
          Armonica Solo: Cecilia Brauer

          Conductor……………Marco Armiliato

          Production…………..Mary Zimmerman
          Set designer…………Daniel Ostling
          Costume designer……..Mara Blumenfeld
          Lighting designer…….T. J. Gerckens
          Choreography…………Daniel Pelzig
          TV Director…………Gary Halvorson

        • Porgy Amor

          You’re mixing up your female Met Lucia directors whose names begin with “Z.” That is the Mary Zimmerman. The Francesca Zambello debuted in 1992 with June Anderson, was booed and critically savaged, and was hastily replaced in 1998. The replacement (Nicolas Joël’s) was itself gone within ten years. It was a case of bad ideas giving way to no ideas.

          The Zimmerman, while no masterpiece, is probably the best of those three, per the conventional wisdom.

          • Lindoro Almaviva

            Yes i am! You are talking about the coffin Lucia they did for June Anderson that lasted like 5 performances and it was sent to the trash a week latter.

            Thanks for sending me in the right path

    • Bill

      It would be nice to see any Forza back at the Met --
      it was one of the first Verdi operas I truly liked (Milanov,
      Tucker, Warren, Siepi in a handsome Berman production which later had Tebaldi, Bastianini, Berganzi and still later
      Tucci, and particularly Leontyne Price . Also thrilling di Stefano in Vienna where Stella also sang Leonora --
      the Sharon Sweet /Domingo (instead of Pavarotti)
      production was something of a mess and it has been a long wait for a revival or new production at the Met. There are not too many Leonora’s today I would hanker to see, though Stoyanova might be one and if Netrebko would ever take on the role, it would be a feather in her cap and a huge box office lure . The work may be uneven but along with
      Don Carlo is one of my favorite Verdi Operas.

      • CKurwenal

        Bill, I understand Netrebko is confirmed for Forza at the ROH in a forthcoming season. I agree it should be a particularly good role for her.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    Coincidentally, Sirius was playing Forza this afternoon and I missed the overture. Happy to put this on tonight. Thanks.

  • Mkaipo

    I didn’t see any mention of the ‘Leonora’ by the living legend, Leontyne Price. What an experience Forza was for me in San Francisco in the late 70s.

  • Kedem Frühling Horowitz Berger

    Forza is one of my guilty pleasures. It may not be as ‘great’ as Ballo, or as tightly conceived, but its diversity is one of its pleasures. The only production who made sense of this trashy plot is the one from Munich where the family has dinner throughout the overture. It works. It’s a good role for Kaufmann and Harteros was convincing and not sharp as usual. Tezier is some kind of a god as the 2010s go.

    Anyway, this is the most beautiful La vergine ever documented. The purity at 80 is amazing (a voice which has been kept in pristine condition, unused) and the style is a perfect blend of bel canto and Mozartean purity. If you don’t know this, the first notes will strike you dead.

    • Christian Ocier

      …good god that is amazing. She’s 90???

      • rapt

        85, according to another YT posting, which gives her date of birth as 1931 (the video is from 2016). Youngster though she may be, I still adore this.

    • Rowna Sutin

      Wow. At any age. Very touching indeed!

    • Guilty pleasure? In my view, Forza is a great opera, period. It would probably make it to my list of top ten Verdi operas.

  • Ray Reilly

    the run with Deborah Voigt never occurred. It was cancelled because Pavarotti never learned the role. it was replaced with Ballo I believe

    • Nelly della Vittoria

      But it did indeed occur, with Voigt and Salvatore Licitra, as witness this review:

      • CKurwenal

        I had the misfortune to witness some of it too. Voigt was audibly tired by the time we got to ‘La vergine degli angeli’ and based on what Licitra and the other men had come up with by that point, I decided to cut my losses and go in search of some negronis.

        • PCally

          Ditto, actually the only time I’ve ever walked out of a performance at the met. Dreadful produciton, sloppy and dull conducting and poorly sung and performed across the board.

          • JR

            Shockingly good review of a dreadful evening

          • Kullervo

            Jesus, are we all related? The 2006 Forza was also one of the only Met performances I ever walked out of.

        • fletcher

          La forza dell’aperitivo

        • You left at the interval!

          • CKurwenal

            Is that so shocking? I had liked Voigt in that performance until she started to sound exhausted -- the stars were not aligning for a pleasing Pace, pace mio dio. And I’m afraid none of the men were remotely pleasing to listen to -- I figured there was nothing to stay for.

            • No, not shocking -- my blog is called “We Left At The interval”.

        • Nelly della Vittoria

          Everyone’s talking about this trainwreck so much I’m almost sad I wasn’t around to see it, except it doesn’t sound outrageous so much as boring.

          • PCally

            And I can’t imagine a worse adjective to apply to forza than boring

            • David Rosenbaum

              I’ll never forget how boring it was. It was my first and only Forza, and now my brain clouds over whenever I hear the opera mentioned.

    • PCally

      A quick browse the met database will show that Voigt sang two different runs of Forza at the met, singing the last three performances of the premiere run of the last production (opposite Segej Larin) and the again a decade later with Licitra. Neither run was all that well received, though I like her better than Sweet (at least how she sounded during that run, in general I preferred her to Voigt).

      • Solovyov

        That first season, IIRC, Voigt was very engaged in the part and in quite good form; Larin, too, really sounded good. In all respects the “B” cast was better than the “A.” None of which helped the physical production, but it was a lot more pleasant to listen to at the end of the run than at the beginning.

  • Camille

    I really, really adore the third act of Luisa Miller, too. Verdi hardly ever surpassed himself even years later with all he created.

    Does anyone have a suggestion as to a preferred version as I am listening now for the springtime production. — can always tool around in the Youtube graveyard but here’s hoping Mr Christopher is going to come out with a real
    rarity from his pirate cove in anticipation of the big revival in the spring. I well remember listening to the live broadcast with Ricciarelli et al in about ’82 or thereabouts, which marked the beginning of my cognizance of this wonderful and interesting work. However, I still have never bothered to own a score nor even choose a recording, kind of strange reaction for me. I always hoped for a rarity from Rosa Ponselle, who debuted the role at the Met but have found zero…