The Colburn Orchestra Play Verdi - 'Overture to La Forza del Destino'

For the full performance, which includes Martin & Tchaikovsky, click here.

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
"Overture to La Forza del Destino" (1861)

Stephen Tavani

From "Aida to Rigoletto," "Il Trovatore" to "LaTraviata," the operas of Giuseppe Verdi have captured the hearts of audiences across the globe. So beloved was he that, at his state funeral in 1901, a crowd of over two hundred thousand people were in attendance, grieving the loss of the venerated Italian composer. Over a century after his death, Verdi's presence in the operatic world is more prevalent than ever; the popularity of his compositions has led to their annual programming by the world's leading companies, from the Metropolitan Opera to our own Los Angeles Opera.

Premiering in 1862, "La Forza del destino" is based on the play Don Álvaro, a melodramatic work written by Ángel de Saavedra, Duke of Rivas. Following a lukewarm reception, Verdi made a series of revisions to the opera, resulting in the 1869 version which is usually produced today. To a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, one of Verdi's longtime collaborators, "La Forza" revolves around the lives of three characters. The first is the play's titular namesake, the Incan prince Don Álvaro; the second, Álvaro's love interest and the daughter of the Spanish nobleman Don Calatrava, Leonora; and the third, the son of the very same nobleman and brother of Leonora, Don Carlo.

The plot of "La Forza" del destino is rather simple, though somewhat illogical. During an altercation triggered by his thwarted attempt to elope with Leonora, Alvaro's gun accidentally discharges and fatally wounds her father, Don Calatrava, leaving Leonora's brother, Carlo, to obsess over obtaining revenge against the lovers. Though having fl ed together, the two are inexplicably - though conveniently, as far as plot is concerned - torn asunder between acts. The lovers go their separate ways, each relinquishing hope of ever being reunited. Leonora retreats to a cave to live as a hermit, while Alvaro eventually joins a monastery. Though having been foiled through several plot twists in his attempts to duel Alvaro, Carlo is finally successful in goading the reluctant Álvaro into fi ghting him. In a cruel turn, they end up fi ghting outside of Leonora's cave. Álvaro mortally wounds Carlo, and upon hearing the commotion outside, Leonora rushes out to tend to her brother, who fatally stabs her in his undying thirst for vengeance. From that point, the ending differs signifi cantly between the original version and Verdi's 1869 revision. In an attempt to lighten the ending, Don Álvaro (who in the original ending literally jumps off a cliff to his death), claims redemption following the deaths of Leonora and Carlo.

Alongside various plot changes, Verdi's 1869 revision also saw the creation of the overture heard on tonight's program, replacing a shorter preludio which had originally introduced the opera. In the tradition of operatic overtures, the work endeavors to familiarize the listener with the most memorable melodies and themes from "La Forza del destino." The overture begins with a recurring "fate" motif, a three-note unison issued by the brass section. This is quickly followed by an undulating line played in the strings, placed over an undeniable force created through the rhythmic pulsations issuing forth from the lower members of the section. Soon after this motif is introduced, the winds present the fi rst theme - an unforgettable melody overlaid on the string motif. The melody is taken from the duet sung in the last act between Don Carlo and Don Álvaro, a prelude to their fi nal duel - Col sangue sol cancellasi. With little warning, the orchestra leads into a breathless pause, the trailing melody leaving the audience on the edge of their seats in anticipation of a resolution which never comes.

Immediately thereafter, the strings gently glide into the second theme, taken from an aria sung by Leonora in the second act as she attempts to fi nd peace through prayer, Madre, pietosa Vergine.

Shortly after the theme is introduced, the lower strings reiterate the "fate" motif, driving the orchestra into a pulse-pounding frenzy of motion, the epitome of what one would consider the considerable force of destiny - only to stop abruptly upon reaching the end of a particularly climactic upwards climb. After short mention of the fi rst theme played between alternating solo winds, the third and final theme is carried by the clarinet, a sonorous interpretation of a duet, "Se voi scacciate questa pentita," sung between Leonora and Padre Guardiano (Father Superior), who led her to her hermit cave. "Se voi scacciate questa pentita" is Leonora's moment of redemption, her transformation into a pious hermit through divine forgiveness.

The remainder of the overture is an amalgamation of these themes in various incarnations. Ever present, the "fate" motif is strewn about the orchestra as well, appearing in several distinct variations throughout. The overture climaxes with a thrilling conclusion, pushing ever forward with the rhythmic pulsation of "La Forza del destino."

~ By Leonard Chiang, who is a violist and a senior in the Bachelor of Music program in the Colburn Conservatory

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