Giuseppe Verdi: La forza del destino

Verdi Edition

Edited by Philipp Gossett and William Holmes (2005)

Three-volume set: two volumes score pp. XCIV, 929 + critical commentary
1862 version | NR 139507
1869 version | NR 139263

Verdi wrote to all his friends that he had “completed” his opera for St. Petersburg in 1861 (although, as always, he planned to finish its orchestration during rehearsals). When Emilia La Grua – the prima donna scheduled to sing the part of Leonora – took ill, however, the composer departed from Russia, carrying his score with him back home to Santa’Agata, near the town of Busseto. There, during the summer of 1862, he polished his opera, made some major changes in its structure, and completed its orchestration. Then he set off for St. Petersburg again. During rehearsals, he introduced still other changes, often to suit the needs of particular singers. When we refer to the Saint Petersburg version of the opera, it is normally to the work as performed on 10 November 1862.

But the composer was hardly done with his score. A few months later, for a performance he directed in Madrid on 21 February 1863, he made still other modifications, some tied to his new singers, some to further particular artistic aims. He transposed down by a full tone, for example, the final section of the aria for Don Alvaro that concludes Act III; he felt that only the original Don Alvaro, the tenor Enrico Tamberlick, could face the difficult tessitura and sing properly the high “C” at the end of the act; in Madrid that “C” became a “B flat”.

While La forza del destino in the St. Petersburg/Madrid version is a work of great beauty and emotional power, it had a difficult time making its way in the world of Italian opera during the 1860s. Some sections were considered “old-fashioned” in an environment in which the Wagnerian revolution was beginning to be felt, particularly several conclusions that seemed to suggest the old “cabaletta” convention (think of Violetta’s “Sempre libera” or Manrico’s “Di quella pira”), not to mention the extraordinary tenor aria with which Verdi had originally concluded the third act. Moreover, the stark tragedy, in which all three protagonists perish without hope or consolation, did not win the hearts of opera-goers, even if the composer had tried to leaven the sadness with “characteristic” scenes, one in an inn (the “Scena Osteria”) and one in a military camp (the “Accampamento”), and even with a frankly comic character, Fra Melitone.

After contemplating his opera for several years, Verdi decided in the end to revise it yet again for performances six years later at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, beginning on 27 February 1869. He eliminated or modified some of the formal structures, in order to make them more “modern”; he added a marvelous overture (in place of the original Prelude, a lovely piece, but less ambitious); and he concluded the opera with his tenor still alive among the community of monks and his dying soprano promising to await him in heaven.

Why do we need a new edition of La forza del destino? To begin with, the 1861 music is completely unknown (and it includes some truly beautiful pieces, which should be available to performers for special occasions, even if it would probably not be appropriate to reinsert them into the opera). Furthermore, no full score has ever been printed of the 1862 version and available materials are all based on secondary sources. The new critical edition in most cases has been able to work from Verdi’s own autograph manuscripts, which were recently made available to scholars by the Verdi family in Sant’Agata, thanks to the Istituto nazionale di studi verdiani of Parma. For the 1869 version, Ricordi has published a reasonably good orchestral score since the end of the nineteenth century, although the composer himself had nothing to do with its prepration.

The history of the work, though, is complicated: sorting out that history and making the music available in all of the forms for which Verdi was responsibility is the work of the critical edition. The printing history of Forza is as complicated as its genesis. Verdi had relatively little to do with the printing of the 1862 version, while in 1869 – when he was working in Milan side-by-side with Ricordi copyists – he concentrated exclusively on the changes he was making, not on unaltered material. As a result, many, many errors in the early editions were carried over into later prints and continue to circulate today.

Making a critical edition, however, is not just a matter of copying mindlessly an autograph source: it requires constant comparison of all surviving musical materials, taking into account letters, the testimony of contemporaries, and a profound knowledge of the social framework of Italian opera houses. At the end of the process, it is our job to give today’s performers what we believe to be the best possible score of the opera, as close as we can come to Verdi’s own desires. Then it is up to them to make music and theater.