R.I.P. La Forza del destino–Part 1.

Wanamaker’s essay is spirited and thoroughly argued. Though his production seems to have been compromised by an inadequate Leonora and an uncooperative tenor (Carlo Bergonzi, who showed up late, didn’t attend rehearsals, and ignored such directions as he learned of), it sounds like an interesting one, especially in the “difficult” scenes I’ve been discussing. It also sounds, though, as if it was reasoned largely from the libretto, for which Verdi somehow generated a “ravishing score” despite having “cheapjack reasons” for setting the genre scenes and changing the ending (Wanamaker supervising the religious element seems to have been rather like having Stephen Dawkins officiate at High Mass). It happens that I agree with many of Wanamaker’s arguments regarding this opera’s world. I, too, believe that while there’s certainly such a thing as bad luck, this famous “destiny” is really just a way people have of externalizing responsibility for their actions, and that everything in this drama flows from such evasions. That is part of a modern secular perspective, which Wanamaker and I share. The characters of La Forza del destino, however, do not share it. They have only their subjective experiences of living inside that world, and that is where Verdi was dwelling as he wrote, as he always did when writing well. That’s also where the director and performers are supposed to work from. The value of the opera for us, the thing that makes it “relevant” (I’m afraid I must continue to return to this word), lies in being drawn in there with them, and discovering that while some important things have changed, others have not, and that the emotions attached to these last still have their power.

Finally, I still don’t see how Wanamaker’s reasoning, solid as it was on its own terms, resolved the question of tone in Forza‘s genre scenes, or integrated them into the opera’s core. That core lies in the seventy-five percent or so of the work that we all agree isn’t a “problem”—the gripping arias and duets for the male antagonists, Leonora’s three magnificent arias, her extended exchanges with the Padre Guardiano that culminate in the great choral scene ending with “La vergine degl’angeli,” and, of course, that cheapjack final trio. It’s on the fulfillment, or not, of these scenes that the fate of the opera depends. That fate does, indeed, hang on human attitudes and actions, largely those of singers. That’s what I’ll be looking at next time.

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