Acting on a commission for "La Forza del Destino" from the Bolshoi Theatre in St. Petersburg, Verdi responded on a practical level by preparing for winter; it would premiere in late November.
He sent ahead Italian provisions - sausage, pasta and salami - acquired a very warm coat and commenced work.
Masterpiece of chaos
"La Forza del Destino" begins with a common romantic operatic theme: Thwarted love. Don Alvaro loves Donna Leonora but they come from different classes and her father, the Marquis of Calatrava, objects to the relationship. There is also a darker reason – he is of Incan descent. A Peruvian mother and a Spanish father, both of whom died when he was young.
Donna's father is, in a way, psychologically marked, and sees in this love relief and salvation. On the night of their attempted elopement, the Marquis discovers them and challenges the young Alvaro to a duel, horrified at the prospect of his daughter fleeing with a half caste.
Alvaro will not fight him and instead after swearing to the Marquis that his daughter remains untouched, offers up his life to be sacrificed to her honor.
In an extravagant gesture of surrender, Don Alvaro throws his pistol to the floor and readies himself for the shot that never comes. In a caprice of fate the pistol fires when it strikes the floor, fatally wounding the father. Leonora falls to his side and to her surprise the Marquis dies cursing her.
In the madness that follows from this incredible accident is all action as the opera's plot grows in chaos and dissonance. An obsessed brother, Don Carlo di Vargas, now swears vengeance not only on Alvaro but also on his rebellious sister. Through different towns and countries in the space of years, the chase scene goes on.
The two lovers are parted, and at one point Alvaro thinks Leonora is dead. All three assume false identities that ironically insure their eventual and fatal reunion.
There are wars, sword fights, false oaths, religious confessions, flights into mountain solitudes and church cloisters – all in vain. As predicted by a gypsy who senses that all are lying, but not toward what ends, they live in a state of emotional war with themselves and all around them.
In exhaustion and restlessness Leonora speaks for them all in the beautiful "Pace, pace":
Pace, pace mio Dio, pace mio Dio
M’astringe, ahime, a languir
Peace, o mighty Father, give me peace
Has brought me low
In the original version of the opera all three principals die, but in the revision Verdi allowed for one to live and suffer with the knowledge of their fates.
One of the classic broadcasts
In opera lore, singers distrust the work. Leonard Warren died on stage performing it and Pavarotti, it was said, avoided the role of Alvaro all his performing life. The Met's 1977 broadcast of "Forza" gathered a first-rank cast under the baton of Levine, then in his first full season as the Met's music director.
Leontyne Price sings the pivotal role of Leonora and Don Carlo is American baritone Cornell MacNeil (1922–2011), whose 1959 Met debut as Rigoletto began a 642-performance career with the company that lasted until 1987.
Rosalind Elias (b. 1929), the broadcast's Preziosilla, made her Met debut in 1954, as Grimgerde in "Die Walküre," the first of her 687 Met performances in thirty-five seasons on the roster.
Tune in for this Metropolitan Opera archival broadcast and hear Verdi’s glorious opera of the damned, "La Forza de Destino," at noon on KPAC and KTXI .