Program Notes, ©2012 Lori Newman

Program Notes

Giuseppe Verdi          Overture to La forza del destino (rev. 1869)
(Born 1813, Roncole, Italy; died 1901, Milan, Italy)

Giuseppe Verdi was to Italian opera what Beethoven was to the symphony. He was considered a national treasure, serving as the successor to the great Italian opera composers Donizetti, Rossini, and Bellini. Verdi became the most influential opera composer of the 19th century, and during his lifetime also became the most monetarily successful, thanks to the newly adopted implementation of royalty payments.

He was considered a nationalist composer, but unlike the nationalism found in the music of Dvorak or Mussorgsky, Verdi’s use of nationalism is found in the use of nationalist plots in many of his operas, especially those written during the quest for Italian unification. In doing so, he was able to popularize Italian opera by placing it firmly at the center of national culture. “Viva Verdi” became a phrase associated both with Verdi’s music and the political climate of the time. Verdi’s name was an acronym for Victor Emmanuel King of Italy (Vittorio Emmanuele Re d’Italia).

The libretto for La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny) was written by Verdi’s frequent collaborator, Francesco Maria Piave. Piave based his four-act libretto on the 1835 Spanish play, Don Alvaro, o La fuerza del sino, by Angel di Saavedra (1791–1865), who was influenced by Victor Hugo. Into this, Verdi inserted a scene from Friedrich Schiller’s (1759–1805) Wallenstein’s Camp, as translated by Andrea Maffei, which the composer had long wished to set. By November 1861, La forza del destino was complete except for the orchestration, which Verdi usually finished after experiencing the acoustics in the proposed theater. The final product is Verdi’s most sprawling, dramatically intricate opera.

The premiere was planned for the first part of the 1861–1862 season, but the prima donna became ill and the production was postponed. The premiere, on November 10, 1862, was not as successful as Verdi had wished, and the next year he began altering the score. On February 27, 1869, a revised version with additions by Antonio Ghislanzoni, was first performed at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

Verdi and Piave create a tangled tale in which the characters come together through coincidence. Melitone and Preziosilla provide asides and comic elements, as the three main characters Donna Leonora, Don Carlo, and Don Alvaro play out their tragic parts. The chorus, appearing in nearly every scene, is of greater importance than in any other of Verdi’s operas and has some of the most famous numbers in the opera, including, “Compagni, sostiamo” (new for 1869) and “Rataplan, rataplan,” both found in Act III.

One of the major differences between the 1862 and 1869 versions is the overture. In the first version, we find a concise prelude. Verdi expanded this in 1869 to a lengthy assemblage of melodies from the opera, stressing a three-note motive that is often called the “fate” motive, and a rising, four-note scale associated with Leonora. Verdi was not concerned with overall structure in this potpourri of tunes.

The finale of the last act underwent the greatest changes between versions. In the original, Alvaro kills Carlo in a duel, Leonora enters to be reunited with Alvaro only to be stabbed by the dying Carlo, and Alvaro throws himself from a mountaintop (this was not the lighthearted Italian opera the St. Petersburg audience expected). In the revised version (more likely to be staged today), the duel occurs offstage, as does Carlo’s stabbing of Leonora, who returns to the stage for the trio, “Non imprecare, umiliati.” Alvaro prays over the dying Leonora and as the mode shifts from minor to major, he does not commit suicide, but rather exclaims that he has been redeemed. ●
Program Notes, Lori Newman

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