VERDI: La forza del destino
Montserrat Caballé, sop(Leonora); José Carreras, ten(Don Alvaro); Piero Cappuccilli, br(Don Carlo); Nicolai Ghiaurov,bass (Padre Guardiano); Maria Luisa Nave, ms (Preziosilla); Sesto Bruscantini, bass (Fra Malitone); Chorus & Orch. of La Scala/Giuseppe Patané, cond.
MYTO 3 MCD 984.192 (3 CDs) (F) (ADD) TT: 3' 35

From MYTO comes this thrilling La Scala performance of Verdi's La forza del destino, taped in Milan's great theater June 10, 1978. It is a recording well worth investigating, even if you have a Forza or two (or more!) in your collection. Of primary interest is the Leonora of Montserrat Caballé, a role she never recorded commercially. A reviewer quoted in the booklet accompanying this set opines that, "the role of Leonora is surely not one of the most suitable for Caballé." If so, one would be hard pressed to maintain that opinion after listening to this performance. Caballé's luscious voice is in marvelous shape. Of course, the famed breathtaking pianissimi abound. Further, the upper register, not always the most secure aspect of Mme. Caballé's arsenal, is rock-solid on this particular evening. Her Leonora is hardly a mere series of vocal effects. She is passionate in the extreme, magnificently conveying the desperation of Leonora's plight. I always felt that Caballé, at least in the early to middle stages of her career, was not just an exceptional vocalist, but a singing actress of the first order. Performances like this one confirm that impression.

The above-quoted comment about lack of role suitability would seem far more appropriate for the Don Alvaro of José Carreras. Unlike Caballé, Carreras did record this role in Forza, as part of a 1985 DGG issue. Unfortunately, he was in substandard voice on that occasion, due in part, perhaps, to performances like the one preserved in the MYTO issue. In this 1978 La Scala Forza Carreras is in sterling form. His voice is warm and beautiful, and he admirably conquers the grueling tessitura Verdi employs for the tragic Don Alvaro. Yet it is clear that such a distinguished accomplishment did not come without exacting a price. Carreras was only 31 at the time and clearly very much a lyric tenor. Singers often remark that one must sing on one's interest, not one's capital. In this performance it is clear that Carreras is expending far too much of the latter. The results are undeniably thrilling, but the long-term devastation soon became all too apparent. If you want to enjoy a considerable artist at the apex of a career whose prime years were tragically few, this Forza is a "must."

Piero Cappuccilli was for many years a reliable exponent of the Verdi baritone repertory. While his voice may never have radiated the warmth of Leonard Warren, Ettore Bastianini or Robert Merrill, Cappuccilli always gave a strong account of such demanding roles as Don Carlo. On this evening he is in excellent form, singing with admirable style and dramatic fire. He also offers several thrilling interpolated high notes that draw enthusiastic response from the La Scala audience. As Padre Guardiano Nicolai Ghiaurov is perhaps not in quite the sumptuous form he exhibited in the 1960's and early 1970's,but he is still an imposing presence. Sesto Bruscantini is a Melitone brimming with character, and Maria Luisa Nave makes a fiery Preziosilla.

Conductor Guiseppe Patanè leads an animated performance, always demonstrating sympathy for his principals. The mono recording sounds as if it was taped from an excellent location on the main floor and on a fine recorder. At times the singers are a bit distant, but for the most part the excellence of the performance emerges quite vividly. The La Scala audience obviously enjoyed itself on this occasion, and the lengthy ovations (and occasional quarreling!) are preserved. As a bonus, MYTO includes excerpts from a 1969 Verona Don Carlo featuring Caballé and Placido Domingo. The title role of Don Carlo was always a superb vehicle for Domingo, and his singing is marvelous. Caballé, once again, is in exquisite voice. Her pianissimo conclusion of "Non pianger, mia compagna" and the 16-second high B at the opera's close have to be heard to be believed. In sum, an exciting issue, well worth investigating by fans of the principals, and of thrilling Verdi singing in general.

K.M. (September 1999)