Verdi - La forza del destino / James Levine, The Metropolitan Opera
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La Forza del Destino in Verdi's panoramic tragedy of honor and vengeance in 18th Century Spain an dIntaly. Its characters, ranging from aristocrats to camp followers, from soldiers to monks. Leotyne Price's memorable performance as leonora "can still bring tears to the eyes." "James Levine's conducting is full of drive and fire,"and "the grandeur of the magnificent score come through" New York Times This presentation of La Forza del Destino includes optional English subtitles and was taped during the March 24, 1984 performance at the Metropolitan Opera. No material was taken from rehearsals, other performances or remake recording sessions. Optional English Subtitles "a first class performance" -Washington Post
For much of the late 20th century, Leontyne Price was the leading exponent of Verdi's heroic soprano roles--among the most demanding vocal and dramatic categories in opera. One of her specialties was Leonora, the tormented heroine in La forza del destino (The Power of Fate). Her classic performance, combined with some of Verdi's most soaring and energetic music, did much to justify this flawed but compelling masterpiece--a thud-and-blunder melodrama about war, duels, violent death, guilt, vengeance, and concealed identities in which, following a tried and true operatic formula, nearly everybody dies at the end. There are also comic scenes.
A Metropolitan Opera production of La forza del destino starring Leontyne Price should be a basic item in any collection seriously dedicated to Verdi. This would be an even better production if it had been recorded earlier, when her voice was richer and more precisely controlled, but it is clearly a case of better late than never. The supporting cast is capable and sometimes exciting, but frankly no match for the all-star ensemble supporting Renata Tebaldi and Franco Corelli in a 1958 performance at the San Carlo Opera in Naples available only on VHS. That production is filmed in black and white; no subtitles are provided and the video's technical quality is primitive. But it captures the opera's emotional energy and epic scope. --Joe McLellanSee all Editorial Reviews
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The production is so provincial, we do not even know the name of the stage director. But, the singers! They were some of the greatest voices of the age, all in their primes. Tebaldi, famed for not being a good actress, is here rather charming. She had learned a series of stock gestures, which she gracefully executes. She seems not to have any linear intensity, and this is particularly noticeable in her last Act aria, which is devoid of tragic stature. Her middle voice is very beautiful, but nearing even the approach of a high note, the soprano lowers her chin and acquires a fixed look of painful concentration, exiting whatever characterization she had been trying to maintain. These high notes all are constricted, somewhat flat in pitch, and sometimes released with a yelp. Would we had film of, say, her contemporaries Maria Callas or Herva Nelli in this opera!
Bastianini is, from first to last and in every way, magnificent in this performance. Corelli was acknowledged as being very handsome, but here the baritone is even more so. Even via the translation of an old kinescope, Corelli's voice is thrilling, and he sings with great passion in a role ideal for his talents.
Domínguez is an absolute delight as Preziosilla. The Mexican mezzo-soprano displays a winning personality and fine voice. Christoff's Slavic voice is a marvel, but he seems without expression, and his unfortunate wig and false beard make him resemble a cross between Bozo the Clown and Santa Claus. Capecchi, with the "traditional" false-nose, is excellent as Fra Melitone. The subtitles, on both versions, make the usual, tiresome mistake of confusing friars with monks.
As noted, the production is terrible, with old sets and non-existent direction. One still can see echoes of this approach to opera in the American provinces, though a misunderstood, misapplied version of the Method (completely ill-suited to opera) has taken possession of today's singers, replacing the elegant, slightly-stylized approach of the acclaimed singers seen in this historic Neapolitan performance.
The second performance is from the Metropolitan Opera, on March 24, 1984, featuring Leontyne Price, Giuseppe Giacomini, Leo Nucci, and Bonaldo Giaiotti, conducted by James Levine, with John Dexter as stage director.
Dexter was one of the greatest directors of his generation, but this production is not representative of his work. It was a "revised" version of a production first seen in 1952 (when it was staged by Herbert Graf), when the Met needed "La forza" but could not mount a fresh production of it in 1974. (In fact, during the season of this telecast, Mr Dexter actively discouraged the present author from seeing it in the theatre.) A few examples of his ethos can be seen, nevertheless, in the religious processions, the tableau that opens Act III, and the interesting method of the sororicide.
Miss Price was one of the most beloved sopranos of her time, but by the time of this telecast she was fifty-seven years old. It was not her voice that had disintegrated, but her stylistic manner. Her vocalism is replete with scoops, whoops, sliding up to notes, and careening down to the next pitch. It makes a strange, parodistic effect, is very mannered, and is in no way idiomatic. (Today, Renée Fleming often creates a similar effect.) Her acting is admirable for its simplicity and sincerity, but it, too, by Act III seems to have descended into parody.
Giacomini has a major instrument, but does not have the stage presence of a theatre creature. The extreme close-ups, so beloved by American television, serve no one well in this cast. Nucci, contrariwise, gives a flamboyant portrayal of Don Carlos di Vargas. Giaiotti, with nothing like the instrument of Christoff (see above), portrays good Padre Guardiano in a completely satisfying fashion.
Also in the cast is Isola Jones as a sultry Preziosilla, and Anthony Laciura gives one of his finest characterizations as Mastro Trabuco. The Melitone is highly exaggerated, but John Darrenkamp presents a fine cameo as the surgeon who saves the life of Don Alvaro, the tenor.
Regarding studio recordings on Compact Discs, the EMI set (1986) conducted in volcanic fashion by Riccardo Muti has Plácido Domingo, Mirella Freni (unfortunately replacing the announced Renata Scotto), Giorgio Zancanaro, Paul Plishka, Sesto Bruscantini, Giorgio Surian, and Dolora Zajic in the cast. It is electrifying. Elsewhere, one finds the epochal Leonora of Callas (EMI, 1954), and the brilliant, scintillating Preziosilla of Susanne Marsee in a "pirate" recording from San Francisco (1976).
As a great believer in traditional settings, I am grateful for the powers that be that reissued this superb DVD. I even liked Leo Nucci - usually not my favorite baritone.
It is a must have for any "Forza" collection.
This performance,taped live on a Saturday afternoon in 1983, presents the great American diva, soprano LEONTYNE PRICE in one of her most famous Verdi roles. Her performance, factoring in age(57), career(30+ yrs),& the AFTERNOON, is late vintage Price. Certain vocal mannerisms - a cloudy lower voice, sliding portamenti, and scooping - are indeed present in this performance (as they were in some degree since the late '70s). However, they hardly diminish either the vocal or dramatic impact that Ms. Price brings to this live performance. Her upper register, slightly weaker than before, still rings out minus any wobble and/or false pitches. She sings with beautiful dynamic shadings to accentuate the drama, and still floats pianissimi with little obvious effort. Indeed in this VERDI opera, most of those 'mannerisms' abet the drama, and always did for this particular artist! Ms. Price's performance as the tragic Leonora di Vargas here is heartfelt, passionate, and deeply moving. As there are no other full-length taped commercial opera performances available of this legendary soprano, this VHS/DVD is all the more treasurable for a glimpse of what made LEONTYNE PRICE the reigning Verdi soprano for the past 40 yrs! Tenor Giuseppe Giacomini, while more protean vocally, sings crudely, giving a loud, unsubtle, yet dramatically tenable portrayal of the unfortunate Don Alvaro, complete with a bawling middle, somewhat off-set by ringing high notes. Leo Nucci is a lightweight Verdi baritone, lacking the customary heft and tonal warmth associated with the role of Don Carlo di Vargas. He nonetheless produces exciting vocalism, enhanced by committed acting, and HIS thrilling high notes as well. Mezzo-soprano Isola Jones acts well, looks lovely, but is a barely adequate Preziosilla vocally, with a weak middle voice & a short top. Bonaldo Giaotti's portrayal of Padre Guardiano is somewhat stolid, but his basso is authoritative, and also is beautifully produced. Maestro James Levine's love & mastery of this sprawling masterpiece( the RCA CD version with Price/Domingo/Milnes is magnificent)is evident throughout, birnging clarity to the inherent contrasts between searing, private dramas, and all the lively interludes that occur on the battlefield and amongst the Italian countrysides. Overall,this is a very fine VHS/DVD to own - not the overall best taped performance (Tebaldi, Corelli, etc 1959)- but a Special one for those seeking a cohesive, modern performance of "La Forza del Destino", and starring one of its most celebrated artists, "La Splendissima" soprano Leontyne Price LIVE!! Note: A "cut" (the Soldier's Chorus) while regrettable, is hardly FATAL. Enjoy!
I rarely comment on reviewers opinions and posts, as the art and success of of singing is highly subjective in most genres. Opera singing, while not exempt from said subjectivity, does indeed have requsite elements that dictate skill, musicality, and the ability to sing in tune amongst others. Tonal standards can be disputed, but most Operaphile I'm aware of, regard aging Artists' ability to phonate in pitch, sing without a wobble, and at least provide a reasonable reminder of their artistry to be anything that approachs the word 'DISASTER"! As most listeners have discerned over the years, Operatic Perfection is the province of recording studios - not staged performances, as a general rule. Knowledge of this art form - to expose one's ignorance publicly, while providing criticsm speaks for itself - seems to emanate from the product of those microphones. Indeed, in at least one review of Madame Price's performance in the reviewed FORZA, the reviewer referred to her earlier "recordings". This DVD presented a LIVE performance without the luxury/security of re-takes, et al!
I will not quibble here with anyone regarding their opinion/review of La Price's performance in the afroementioned "FORZA".
However, I wish to state that the disrespect shown (in some of the posts here)is both appalling and shameful! This esteemed Artist, whose LIVE performances almost never ceased to elicit frenzy from her audiences - not to mention consistent praise from the most knowledgeable, demanding, and sometimes harshest critics Internationally - deserves better. I am an unabashed, longtime admirer of LEONTYNE PRICE, and have attended HER performances and OTHER greats of her generation - time and time again. NO artist deserves such callow and unremitting cruelty, let alone a cherished artist of Miss Price's calibre - even at her advanced age in 1982. In the reviewed FORZA, she sang Verdi's music with feeling, passion, poignancy,and more than a few moments of great vocal beauty, with thefinal Bflat of the "Pace" ringing out in inimitable fashion. Whatever criticisms you & others may have regarding Leontyne Price's overall contributions in the reviewd FORZA (and some of yours were quite accurate) it should be only fair to provide a balanced assessment, avoid gross generalizations, and acknowledge what actually exists for potential listeners of this dvd - AND performances therein. LEONTYNE PRICE is regarded by many in the International Operatic community to have been America's Greatest soprano (pace Ms. Sills)since Rosa Ponselle in terms of vocalism, accomplishment, & yes, longevity on the INTERNATIONAL stages. She & Mr. Cornell MacNeil - another superlative American artist - have earned the right to be respected and allowed their due by ALL Operaphile, whatever individual opinions may be otherwise. I urge you ALL to remember Artists' overall contributions to the musical landscape when judging their individual efforts - especially in their "twilight years". Basta!!
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