Verdi: La forza del destino
Renata Tebaldi, soprano (Leonora), Franco Corelli, tenor (Don Alvaro), Ettore Bastianini, baritone (Don Carlo), Boris Christoff, bass (Padre Guardiano), Oralia Dominguez, mezzo-soprano (Preziosilla), Renato Capecchi, baritone (Fra Melitone), Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples/ Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond.
Hardy Classic Video HCD 4002 (1 DVD). F (ADD?) TT: 2:40:00

This performance of Verdi's La forza del destino from the Teatro San Carlo in Naples has long been available both on audio disc and videotape. Even if you own a previous version of this legendary 1958 Forza, you will want to acquire this DVD release issued by Hardy Classic Video.

Previously I viewed this performance on a VHS tape, released by Legato Classics obviously taken from a source that was generations removed from the original. The sound quality of the VHS was fine, but the picture lacked definition and contrast, to the point that at times existence of the singers and stage action had to be taken on faith (I have not seen the video of the same Forza broadcast, issued by Bel Canto Society).

Hardy Classical Video bills its DVD release as "the only authorized re-recording made directly from RAI's original master copy." It represents a quantum leap forward. The monophonic sound is excellent. While quality of the black-and-white picture certainly cannot compare with that obtained by modern technology, it does finally allow full appreciation of visual elements of this grand performance. If you are able to enjoy vintage television programs from the 1950's, you will have no difficulty with the picture quality preserved on the DVD release.

And the visual component of this performance adds a great deal. Renata Tebaldi and Franco Corelli are visually stunning as Leonora and Alvaro. Indeed, their movie star looks and graceful stage comportment might almost be sufficient to carry the day. But Tebaldi and Corelli also sing with extraordinary security, beauty of tone, dynamic variety, and dramatic commitment. Indeed, their performances of these extraordinarily demanding roles are among the finest preserved on disc.

Likewise, Ettore Bastianini is a handsome and virile Carlo, both in voice and appearance. As Padre Guardiano, Boris Christoff is somewhat hampered by a wig and beard that look as if they had been assembled from leftover cotton balls. As always with this unique artist, Christoff sings with compelling tone and acts with tremendous conviction. He and Tebaldi join forces for an extremely compelling Monastery Scene. Renato Capecchi, a great singing actor, is a masterful Fra Melitone. Oralia Dominguez provides a spirited and vocally assured Preziosilla.

Francesco Molinari-Pradelli leads a vibrant account that crackles from the very first notes of the Overture. Unfortunately, the Alvaro-Carlo "Sleale!" duet is omitted, a particular shame given the sterling vocal estates of Corelli and Bastianini on this occasion. The San Carlo sets often look as if they could be toppled by a hearty breeze, but I doubt that will cause anyone much distress, given the vocal feast that is presented here.

The DVD issue allows easy accessing of various scenes within the opera, as well as English and French subtitles. Another welcome bonus is an exclusive interview with Renata Tebaldi (in Italian, and without subtitles). Madame Tebaldi, who will celebrate her 80th birthday February 1, looks radiant and speaks with great animation about the Naples production and her general involvement with Verdi's Forza.

If you are an opera lover and have a DVD player, I am certain you will want to add this Forza to your collection. If you don't yet own a DVD player, it is not an exaggeration to say that this new release from Hardy Classic Video is reason enough to purchase one.

K.M. (Dec. 2001)