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VERDI La forza del destino (Original version on CD & DVD)

Roderick Kennedy (bass); Martina Arroyo (sop);Alison Truefitt (sop); Kenneth Collins (ten); Peter Glossop (bar); Preziosilla, Janet Coster (mezzo); Derek Hammond Stroud (bass-bar); Don Garrard (bass)
BBC Singers & BBC Concert Orchestra/John Matheson

OPERA RARA ORCV 304 [London 1981 3 CDs: 68.08 + 57.33 + 31.03]

La Forza del Destino (Original version)
Galina Gorchakova /Nikolai Putilin/Gegam Grigorian/Marianna Tarasova/Georgy Zastavny/Nikolai Gassiev
Kirov Orchestra/Valery Gergiev/Elija Moshinsky

Arthaus Musik DVD 100078 [1998 16:9, 160 mins]

The newly released Opera Rara CDs are well re-mastered and come up fresh and vivid, often with better presence than the more recently filmed DVD. We were pleasingly surprised by the authority of this mainly British cast and enjoyed especially Kenneth Collins (Don Alvaro), and the chorus & orchestra under John Matheson. gergiev

Opera Rara's usual comprehensive booklet combines pleasure and education; the choice comes down to whether you prefer to watch a performance with subtitles on screen or like to hold the texts (with fuller commentary) in your hands? The Opera Rara CDs cost c. £ 37.50; the Arthaus DVD is c £25 from Amazon.

- - The fascinating Forza DVD (1998 from the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg) is a full-blooded rendering of a full-blooded, essentially unsubtle, opera composed for an audience of opera enthusiasts, but no way updated here for the jaded appetites of today's audiences, brought up on fast-moving film & TV, and whom younger directors presume to be always looking for new slants.

The main interest of this performance is historical, with the earlier St Petersburg version of the score and sets reconstructed to the 1862 designs. We do not have the turbulent war scenes from the later Italian version nor Alvaro's suicide; he survives till the final curtain.

The tone of La Forza del Destino veers between high drama and low comedy, with intimate exchanges of love and revengeful fury, and busy crowd scenes with fun at the expense of the ridiculous monk Fra Melitone (Georgy Zastavny) and, for happier relief, some sexy display of her attractions by the eye and ear catching Preziosilla (Marianna Tarasova), mezzo fortune-teller and cheer leader for battle. For menace and foreboding dark blues predominate, and the soldiery offer variety with colourful uniforms.

The main difficulties - to my eyes - arise in the arias and duets and epitomise some of the problems of live opera for home viewing; many collectors will take them in their stride. They are static in the old style, offering little by way of significant gesture, and filmed too close up, with the singers' mouths wide open, necessarily so to carry over the orchestra in a large house. Gegam Grigorian (Alvaro) and Galina Gorchakova (Leonora) are strong and honest, sing well and convince in their assumptions of the main roles - sample Gorchakova's 'Pace, pace, mio dio'. Leonora's short-lived father, who dies in the first scene, and her avenging brother (Nikolai Putilin, a serious disappointment in body language and his unmelodic phrasing) are rather wooden to watch and listen to, and there must be many better accounts of their roles on record. Marianna Tarasova, Georgy Zastavny and Nikolai Gassiev sing well and are never less than watchable in their character roles. The Kirov chorus is well directed by Elija Moshinsky in a thoroughly conventional manner, which will be a relief to older viewers - - Valéry Gergiev keeps the Kirov Orchestra on its toes and the drama at high voltage. [PGW in The Opera Critic]

- - better for study than for enjoyment. It is correct, complete (1862 version) and dull. Direction by Elijah Moshinsky cannot readily be faulted; it is conventional and historical. Gorchakova and Gregorian sing well if without evidence of much understanding.- - [Opera Japonica]

For a detailed comparative review see Robert J Farr on Music Web.

© Peter Grahame Woolf