Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
18 March 2019
"The audience of New York opera fans is invited today to a great festival. The latest opera of Verdi, the one which, they say, gives the most honor to his genius and seals his reputation, will be presented this evening for the first time at the Academy of Music.
La Forza del Destino is a work of great dramatic power. The subject is taken from Spanish legend, and borrowed, in its principal arrangements, from a drama of the Duke of Rivas, having for its title Don Alvaro, o la Fuerza del Sino. It comprises in its texture scenes from all genres, which bring in the most varied musical states of affairs, from tender sentiments, drinking songs and picturesque dances, to violent passions, songs of warriors and religious chants. It is, in a word, one of the most original compositions in the development of opera ever put on the stage.
On this multiple scheme Verdi has scattered in profusion the richness with which his genius overflows, although one could have believed that it was exhausted after a career so active and already so full. It seems that he has saved for this supreme work all the vital forces that remain in him, or that this inexhaustible wellspring of harmony gets larger the further away it gets from its origin.
La Forza del Destino is an opera in four acts; it was performed at first with a resounding success in St. Petersburg and Madrid, then in Paris, where it was definitively sanctified and classed among the very small number of lyric masterpieces. M. Max Maretzek has neglected nothing in producing it befor the American public in conditions capable of being worthily appreciated. Decor, costumes, scenery, everything which, in terms of material arrangements, can give luster to this interesting production, has been prepared with unusual luxury. The distribution of roles is a guarantee of success from an artistic point of view. It includes the names most beloved of the audience: Mme Carozzi Zucchi at the head, then Mme Morensi, Massimiliani, Bellini, Susini, Lorini and Dubreuil. With all these elements, the Academy of Music can count on a triumph, and M. Max maretzek on the thanks of the musical world."
Lengthy article. Mostly an explanation and contextualization of the work. Verdi’s opera is preceded by great expectations and its reputation for being one of his best. It has been extremely successful in St. Petersburg, Madrid, and Paris [sic].
“The Academy was crowded last night by the most brilliant audience of the season. . . . The first performance of a new opera, which requires so much from the artists as does La Forza, is not expected to be free from faults. Yet we must confess that it went off with remarkable smoothness, allowing for the difficulties which necessarily appertain to a first production of a work so elaborate in its scenic as well as its musical effects. The artists were all fully [illeg.] to the occasion. . . . We do not say too much, we think, when we pronounce the new opera a complete success. . . .Such is the story; intensely tragic, as may be perceived, but rendered in such brilliant music, and relieved by such fine effects, that we lose the darkness of the history in the richness of its interpretation.”
“‘La Forza del Destino’ is in four acts, and is in many respects the most ambitious of Verdi’s works. To say that it resembles the ‘Ballo in Maschera’ more than his other operas, is simply to say that it is in his later style. At the same time it does not contain as many salient melodies as that opera, nor has it any of those melodic trios or quartets in which Verdi is usually so successful. The composer seems rather to depend upon grandiose effects, dramatic situations and elaborate harmonies of the Meyerbeer school; and those who are fond of this, the modern school of music, will at once acknowledge ‘La Forza’ to be the most scholarly of Verdi’s operas.
In glancing at the leading points of the music our limited space will only allow of the most cursory remarks. The brief overture leads to a few pages of recitative and to a delicate aria for soprano, ‘Me pellegrina,’ which is not wholly unlike the ‘Ah mon fils’ of Meyerbeer. A duet with tenor ensues, in which the theme ‘Seguirti fino’ is one of the most marked melodies in the whole work. Otherwise this act is uninteresting, and was received coldly.
The scene changing to the open square before a convent, we have a very beautiful prayer for soprano, accompanied by an unseen accompaniment of organ and chorus. A duet for soprano and basso is followed by a superb scene, during which the church doors are flung open, the monks emerge with lighted tapers, and the noblest music of the opera—a finale including melody as well as harmony—closes the scene.
In the third act there is a delicious solo for the clarinet, precluding a romanza in A flat for the tenor. A showy rataplan chorus, with drum accompaniment, by the contralto, and couplets by way of interludes for the same voice, in one of the sensational points of the opera, and last night won the only encore of the evening. A tarantella, a duet for tenor and baritone, and a vigorous closing tenor air ending on the high c, are the other features of the third act.
The fourth act opens with an amusing buffo scene, in which Melitone, the convent porter, grudgingly bestows charity in shape of soup, upon a troop of troublesome mendicants. A magnificent duet for tenor and baritone –perhaps the gem of the opera—follows. Then comes a noble dramatic scene for soprano, and a death scene in Verdi’s best manner.From this hasty glance at ‘Forza,’ it will be seen that it enlists the church, the army, love, revenge, death, fun, and any variety of costume in its representation. It is a thoroughly grand opera; and was produced last night in a thoroughly grand style. The artists, excepting Susini, seemed fatigued, but were fully successful in their respective parts, and after the next performance we shall devote more attention to their individual merits.”
Includes a summary of the opera’s performances in St. Petersburg and Madrid, with glowing accounts of its excellence. “[A]fter a careful examination [of the score, Maretzek] declared that, in some respects, it was the finest work in the modern Italian repertoire. We are entirely of his opinion. . . .
The merit of the libretto . . . [is] in the contrasts which an ingenious suite of scenes afford to the composer. From the austerities of religious life to the recklessness of the camp, and the gaiety of the peasant tavern; from the passionate utterances of a wronged and broken-hearted woman to the huckstering cajoleries of a peddler—this is the gamut successfully compassed by Signor VERDI. A master of dramatic combination, he has, in three or four instances, seized his opportunity with a vigor that has never before been excelled. The result is an opera of fine proportions, not overcharged with tunes, but filled with broad, masterly effects, and far better, we think, than any late work from his pen.
The opera opens with a short prelude for the orchestra, in which three of the best themes are introduced in a flattering way peculiar to VERDI. We then have the first act. The morceaux here, exhibit nice feeling, rising subsequently into passionate utterances of love, and resulting in a quick disposal of Signor DUBREUIL, the representative of the Marquis. The music is, perhaps, the weakest of the opera, but it possesses an element of popularity in the duet which will give it a friendly acceptance with the masses. The second act is important, alike in length and in merit. The scenes are contrasted with rare skill, and VERDI exhibits very thoroughly his ability to write church music. In this act the mezzo-soprano, a vivandiere (impersonated by Mlle. MORENSI,) makes her appearance. The music allotted to her is light and graceful, resembling in character that intrusted to the Page in ‘In Ballo in Maschera.’ It is, however, firmer—more substantial. The first encore of the evening was won by Mlle. MORENSI, who, we may here add, sang and acted excellently throughout the entire opera. We have not had many opportunities of unreservedly praising this lady, but on this occasion we may do so. Her vivacity was unflagging; and, although a little cumbersome in her phrasing, her singing was good and thoroughly effective. A superb duet in this act for soprano and basso (piu tranquilla l’alma) deserves to be particularized as one of the happiest inspirations of the composer. It is totally out of his ordinary vein, and, in fact, approaches the style of MEYERBEER. The treatment is worthy of the subject. Such themes are necessarily reticent; they have to be conned before they can be appreciated. A few performances will implant this in the public mind, and it will then receive its just reward of applause. The act ends with a pleasing chorus, the subject being taken up from the prima donna and repeated. The third act deals largely with camp-life. There is a rataplan, with vocal and drum accompaniment, of great potency. It was encored (Mlle. MORENSI being the vocalist,) and deservedly, for it is one of the best specimens of its kind. Every variety of music is presented in the changing scenes of this portion of the Opera. An admirable tarantella must not be forgotten. The finale affords the tenor an opportunity of displaying his magnificent contempt of death in a dashing aria. The fourth act is equal to the second is sustained excellence. A duet (Le Minaccie) between tenor and baritone is thoroughly lovely, and Leonora’s scena pace, pace, is also good. Feeling and versatility, with frequent occurrence of great dramatic intensity, are the characteristics of ‘La Forza,’ and will distinguish it from other and less meritorious works by the same composer.The performance last evening was good, and reflected credit on the Conductor M. BERGMANN. The effects of severe discipline were, however, perceptible in some of the voices. Signora LUCCHI [sic] was evidently distressed, and for an instant lost herself in a vagrant note that was not contemplated by VERDI. Signor BELLINI, too, was completely under the weather, and had to omit his cabaletta in the third act. As a compensation for these accidents of over-work, we were regaled with very excellent renderings by Mlle. MORENSI, Signor MASSIMILIANI and SUSINI. We doubt if these three artists have ever been heard to such advantage.”
“The Academy of Music has just staged the latest work of Verdi La Forza del Destino. . . . This isn’t the moment to analyze the score extensively . . . it needs to be savored. . . . Eventually, I will have accomplished my task of music critic. But that is not the case for the libretto. [Summarizes the libretto extensively.]
There’s the story, it’s absurd [c’est idiote], but that’s how you make opera librettos in the second half of the 19th century. This calls itself a lyric tragedy. But, as Beaumarchais has said, it’s not worth the effort of being said, it’s sung. And so doeth Mmes. Carozzi Zucchi and Morensi; and Massimiliani (Alvaro), Bellini (Carlos), Susini (the Superior of the Franciscans), Lorini, Dubreuil, and tutti quanti do their best.
As for the music, I repeat, it would be foolhardy to pretend to make final judgment on it. And yet I confess that I found more than one number that was engaging: In the first act, a touching duet between Leonora and Alvaro. In the second act, the Seguidilla: hola! hola! hola! sung and danced by the muleteers and the peasants, an ensemble piece full of brio—backed up by a chorus of pilgrims—which got the honor of an encore. Then a magnificent duet, between Leonora and the father superior of the Franciscans, who blesses her.
The principal piece of the third act, one almost has to speak about the performance, is a very grand rataplan, very brilliantly sung by the crowd of soldiers, conscripts, canteen-women, merchants and all sorts of people, assembled at the great military encampment of Velletri.
I also noticed some lovely verses sung by Preziosilla, Mme. Morensi: Venite all’indovina, alternating with the chorus; and a tarantella in six-eight: Nella Guerra la follia, very lively and very elegant.
Finally, in the fourth act, in the convent cell, the very heated duet of the challenge between don Alvaro and don Carlos.
That's all I noticed . . . Each one did his duty . . . and each of them gave their best."
“The principal event of the Italian Opera season, of late, has been the production of Verdi's latest opera, ‘La Forza del Destino.’ As to the plot, suffice it to say, that it is a horrible one, more horrible than tragic in the noble sense; that while the incidents of the libretto offer much opportunity for brilliant stage effects, there is a great deal in the book that causes such interest as it awakens, to tire; and the whole needs important cuts and alterations, before it can become thoroughly successful with even that superficial class of opera goers, to whom Verdi's operas are especially dear. The music is full, not only of reminiscences, but of proofs palpable of Signor Verdi's study of Wagner, Gounod, and Weber. We never regard it as a sign of deficiency of genius or native originality, when a youthful writer at first shows a disposition to tread in the steps of his gifted predecessors; on the contrary, we regard it as a mark of that studious diligence, that reverence for lofty ideals, that timid doubt as to his own innate strength, which infallibly accompanies the young and inexperienced composer of genius. But when we see a man of long and practised experience, like Verdi, past his fiftieth year, giving unmistakable signs of a disposition, not to a change of one original style for another—that is often seen—but to the imitation of his successful contemporaries, we are led to one of two conclusions, either that the composer is conscious that his own well-spring of inspiration is becoming so dry, that it is necessary for him to dip his pitcher at the fountain of others; or that he has become convinced that his life-long course of composition has been in a false direction, and that perhaps it is still not too late to mend. Suppose we give him credit for the latter conviction; we honor him from the bottom of our heart, provided he acts truly up to it, while, at the same time, we cannot avoid a doubtful shake of the head. The most successful numbers of the opera in question are undoubtedly the choruses and concerted piece; that of the muleteers, students, pilgrims, &c, in the first scene of the second act, that of the monks, at the conclusion of the same, perhaps the best. The vivandiere chorus is much applauded, but is trivial in the extreme. There is also a scene between Melitone and beggars, not without comic character. In the solo numbers, Verdi's deficiency of melody, and abundance of reminiscential idea, is most conspicuous; however, the music given to the heroine, Leonora, has much nobility of expression. The part of the baritone is effective, that of the tenor of less importance; the part of the mezzo soprano, Preziosilla, a gipsey, is capable of being made very characteristic in the hands of a singer of powerful voice and dashing action; and having two or three numbers of a light and popular style, is effective even as we have the part represented here. Mme. Zecchi [sic], as Leonora, is careful and dramatic; but her intonation has become so false since the commencement of the season, owing either to the trying climate, or over-exertion, that it painfully mars her best efforts. Massimiliani is quite inadequate to the position as primo tenore here, although he shows signs of improvement. The opera is put on the stage with much display, and more incorrectness. Ask the traveller, or the historical student of costume, what is his opinion of those extraordinary dresses, which we are told to accept in the opera as old Spanish and Italian! Mme. Zacchi [sic] should be excepted from censure, however. Lancelot.”