Recorded in 1981 and broadcast by the BBC two years later, the performance features Martina Arroyo as Leonora, Kenneth Collins as Don Alvaro, Peter Glossop as Don Carlo, and Janet Coster as Preziosilla. This “original” Forza, proposed as such first by the BBC (although no score or source is identified in the recording), replicates the first version of the opera written for the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1862. It differs in several ways from the traditionally-performed revision made for La Scala some seven years later. First, it features a preludio, more concise than the familiar overture but based on the same themes that foreshadow the action. Furthermore, the order of events in Act 3 is different, but the most significant contrast between the Russian and Italian Forzas involves the three deaths at the opera’s conclusion. Perhaps more brutal but clearly more in line with the Spanish drama that served as the libretto’s source was the initial version’s onstage demise of all three main characters (Alvaro mortally wounds Carlo, who in turn stabs Leonora, his own sister. A distraught Alvaro then throws himself off a cliff). However, claiming that one is hearing the “original” Forza is a bit more complicated than simply pointing out how versions differ.
Verdi began to revise his score even while he was in St. Petersburg; these materials were (and still are) located in the archives of the Mariinsky Theatre.* It is these sources (along with a piano/vocal score, as this author was told in a visit to the archive) that furnished the version produced at the Mariinsky and recorded by Valery Gergiev. The publication of the long-awaited scholarly edition of Forza, done under the auspices of The University of Chicago and Ricordi’s The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, is imminent, though, so it soon will be possible to see precisely how true to the original this BBC production (and indeed Gergiev’s) was.
The remastering of the BBC’s production results in an impressive recording. The singers, however, were all “of an age” when it was made and unfortunately, this shows. Arroyo’s Leonora is strong, vibrant and rich in tone. Equally pairing her is Collins, who sings with a pure, clear voice. The disappointment is Glossop. This legendary performer seems beyond the point of performing a role like Carlo; indeed his rendering of the “student” aria, “Son Pereda, son ricco d’onore” is outright implausible. His pairing with Collins in “Amici in vita e in morte” sounds more like a father-and-son duet rather than one sung by two friends. Coster is notable as Preziosilla, although she seems to have a problem with some of the lower pitches in the “Rataplan.” The rest of the cast, including Derek Hammond-Stroud as Fra Melitone, is impressive and right on the mark. The BBC Chorus, as usual, is perfection, but one wonders if the BBC Orchestra, under the direction of John Matheson, did not use a little too much “fire power.” At times, it has more “forza” than the Petersburg orchestra certainly would have had. Although it ably builds the atmosphere and excitement of this dynamic score, it often overwhelms. Of course, the recordings—both the original and the remastering—were not aimed at authentic practice but at representing an “original” masterpiece.
*Those interested in reading about these revisions are referred to William C. Holmes’ article “The Earliest Revisions of La forza del destino” in Studi Verdiani, Vol. 6, 1990.
**Author: Opera: The Basics (New York and London: Routledge, 2006)