VERDI La Forza del Destino
This marks (I presume) the final offering from Opera Rara’s laudable restoration of BBC broadcasts from the 1970s and ’80s of Verdi’s first thoughts on specific operas, and it is quite up to the standard of the series. It differs only in being given without an audience, and was broadcast two years after the recording.
On disc we know the 1862 original Forza from the Gergiev set recorded, appropriately enough, in St Petersburg. That version is by and large finely cast with Russian singers and excitingly conducted, but this one, featuring British artists and one North American, need hardly fear the comparison. John Matheson may be a slightly more measured interpreter than Gergiev but he is perhaps even more adept at disclosing the many subtleties in shaping the slightly sprawling score as a unified whole. His orchestra provides fine playing – special praise for the first clarinet before Alvaro’s Act 3 solo – and the BBC Singers nicely characterise their roles.
Alvaro, an even more taxing role than in the better-known revised version for Milan, is superbly sung by Kenneth Collins: Bergonzi and Domingo apart, no other tenor in the late 20th century was as ideal for the part. Collins, a true spinto, makes light of the demands, and sings with unstinting strength and an innate sense of Verdian style, a suitable souvenir of a singer so little represented on disc.
Martina Arroyo, also on Gardelli’s recording of 12 years earlier, is a profoundly sympathetic, even-voiced Leonora: she really sings her heart out. As the implacable Don Carlo, Peter Glossop remains an appreciable Verdian. His tone had loosened a little by 1981 but he splendidly conveys the avenging brother’s wrath, particularly in his fiery encounter with Alvaro in Act 4.
Like Collins, Don Garrard and Derek Hammond-Stroud were then singing the revised version at the Coliseum. The much-admired Canadian bass sings with depth and authority as Padre Guardiano, and Hammond-Stroud in one of his favourite roles makes Melitone more than a mere buffo but rather a hot-headed, obtuse friar, as he should be. Janet Coster fills most of the considerable demands of Preziosilla’s role and it is good to be reminded of the stalwart tenor Kenneth Bowen and of Roderick Kennedy’s sturdy bass. All sing with exemplary Italian.
The recording has breadth and presence. The booklet is lavish though the skimpy note seriously underestimates the differences between this and the more famous revision, and it is a pity there are no biographies: the singers are hardly well known to most younger Verdi enthusiasts. But these complaints are of little consequence when the performance is so inspiriting and dedicated on all sides.