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Verdi: La Forza Del Destino / Gorchakova, Putilin, Grigorian, Gergiev

Verdi / Karasev / Gorchakova / Putilin / Grigorian
Release Date: 04/24/2012 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 100079  
Composer:  Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Gegam GrigorianNikolai PutilinMarianna TarasovaGalina Gorchakova
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kirov Theater OrchestraKirov Theater Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

VERDI La forza del destino Valery Gergiev, cond; Galina Gorchakova ( Leonora ); Gegam Gregorian ( Don Alvaro ); Nikolai Putilin ( Don Carlo ); Marianna Tarasova ( Preziosilla ); Sergei Alexashkin ( Padre Guardiano ); Georgy Zastavny ( Fra Melitone ); Grigory Read more Karasev ( Marchese di Calatrava ); Kirov Op O & Ch ARTHAUS MUSIK 100079 (DVD: 165:00) Live: St. Petersburg 1998

This is a famous production of La forza del destino in which conductor Valery Gergiev and set designer Andrei Voitenko, copying the original 1862 work of Andreas Roller, present the original version of the opera. Oddly enough, the studio sound recording came out first, in 1995 on Philips, with Olga Borodina as Preziosilla rather than Tarasova. It met with mixed reviews, partly for reasons I shall soon discuss, and was cut from the catalog in the early 2000s, although it was reissued this year by Philips’s Polygram label-mate, Decca (1651402). This video originally surfaced on VHS in 1999, then in 2001 on DVD, both from Kultur.

As then, the fascination in this production is its representation of the original version of the opera. Some of the differences are good, others not. In place of the rather longish overture that Verdi wrote for the 1867 Italian premiere, the music in this prelude breaks off roughly halfway through and dies off in a soft, dark passage. This is a superior way of introducing the opera; it makes more dramatic sense. There are a few extra lines in this version for Fra Melitone, and at the conclusion of act III Don Alvaro sings an extra aria and cabaletta (“Qual sange sparsi!”) when he thinks he has choked Don Carlo to death. Although there is a sound dramatic reason for this piece, the music isn’t very good. It sounds like a third-rate “Di quella pira.”

Then there is the final scene. In this version, Alvaro and Carlo fight it out in plain sight, not in the back of a rocky landscape. Alvaro runs his sword through Carlo, then Leonora shows up. Again, Carlo runs his sister through with his sword in plain view, not offstage, and this time when Padre Guardiano shows up he has a handful of other monks in tow. Alvaro throws himself to his death from the top of a cliff, so everyone dies. Only a little bit of this music is the same as the famous eight-minute final trio that Verdi composed for the 1867 production, which is the form the opera has had ever since.

I like this final scene better from a dramatic standpoint, even though it is more fatalistic, but like everyone else I like the revised final scene better from a musical standpoint. It is, quite simply, one of the greatest pieces of music Verdi ever composed.

As for the performance, it is very similar to the CD recording with one major difference. Whereas the CD was made in a peculiarly sound-dead studio, which makes everyone’s voice die out (decay) at a rapid rate and lends a sterile quality to it, this stage version is really alive and vibrant. The major beneficiary of the greater space around the voices is soprano Galina Gorchakova. She really does not have soft high notes, thus one will listen in vain for the floated sound one recalls from Ponselle, early Tebaldi, early Price, or Caballé, but she has a dramatic bite in her voice that one associates with Caniglia, Callas, or later Price. I am very impressed with her voice as much as her phrasing and dramatic interpretation; it has a rich, sumptuous sound with an excellent low range (she might even be a pushed-up mezzo), yet her high notes have bite and ring.

I prefer Marianna Tarasova as Preziosilla because Borodina’s voice, though exceedingly lovely, produces no interpretation whatsoever, whereas Tarasova (like Gorchakova) gives us a surprisingly vivid interpretation of the hapless gypsy. I don’t know any opera lover who likes Preziosilla’s music, sometimes not even the mezzos who sing it, and because it is considered a throwaway role it almost never goes to front-rank singers. Moreover, the types of mezzos who usually sing it have light, high voices with zero interpretation (shades of Borodina), whereas the music demands a tremendous range from the singer. At one point, she sings a low contralto E only to be forced to jump to E two octaves higher two notes later. Tarasova, for me, sings the best Preziosilla (for what it’s worth) since Ebe Stignani back in the ancient 1941 recording conducted by Gino Marinuzzi.

Another extraordinarily difficult throwaway role is that of Fra Melitone, and although his scenes are generally funnier—particularly the one where he feeds the poor—they, too, go on far too long. The real problem with Verdi’s music for Preziosilla and Melitone isn’t just that it isn’t very good, but also it’s too long. The best Melitone I ever saw was Gabriel Bacquier; the best I’ve heard (on a San Francisco broadcast) was Giuseppe Taddei.

And that brings us to the real crux of Forza. Even though it has some good scenes in it that opera lovers enjoy, it—like Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlo, and Otello —gains everything from being seen and not just heard. Moreover, what one wants in this opera is not a group of vocal virtuosos who negotiate all the technical hurdles yet only give us a surface interpretation, but a group of singing actors who portray each principal as a realistic character. This may be gothic melodrama, but if performed well it’s good gothic melodrama, and by and large this cast is excellent. Gorchakova may not be Callas or Mattila as a stage actress, but she conveys Leonora’s angst and haunted nature appropriately; likewise Gegam Grigorian as Alvaro. He is a large man and not handsome, but his performance has tremendous integrity and his wonderfully bright, knife-like tenor voice is reminiscent of Veriano Luchetti. Nikolai Putilin, of course, is one of our era’s great singing actors, and he does not disappoint here as Carlo. Tarasova acts the role of Preziosilla as well as she sings it, and Georgy Zastavny is a pretty good Melitone. You don’t really need an actor as Guardiano; all you really want is a deep, resonant bass voice, and Sergei Alexashkin provides that in full measure.

One of the most interesting aspects of this production is that it not only uses the original score but reproduces, to a large extent, the original 1862 set designs of Andreas Roller. His concepts for stage design were influenced by architect and designer Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841). Roller was invited to Russia in 1834, to help bring the concept of European theater to that country. His original stage designs for La forza del destino have a great amount of detail in both furniture and costumes; huge hanging and mobile props complement the gloomy gothic interiors and moonlit, rocky landscapes. As befits the opera, most of the scenes are played out in darkness or semi-gloom. The only two scenes in which there is a fair amount of light are the second Preziosilla-first Melitone scene (act III) and the second Melitone scene, which leads into the great, dramatic Alvaro-Carlo duet (act IV). Despite the fact that the singers largely play their scenes in the semi-dark, they seem to be perspiring freely even in the first scene of act I, but this is the only distraction I can complain of. Brian Large, an experienced and savvy TV director of opera performances, gives us an excellent visual record of this production. Gergiev manages to keep the musical flow of the opera going while imparting a dark orchestral tone to the score.

I have no reservations whatsoever in recommending this as a superb video Forza. Your decision to acquire it, however, will undoubtedly hang on whether or not you are interested in having a performance that uses the original score.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

La forza del destino by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Gegam Grigorian (Tenor), Nikolai Putilin (Baritone), Marianna Tarasova (Mezzo Soprano),
Galina Gorchakova (Soprano)
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kirov Theater Orchestra,  Kirov Theater Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1862/1869; Italy 
Venue:  Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg 

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