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
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.