Verdi: La forza del destino (Highlights)
Zinka Milanov, soprano (Donna Leonora di Vargas);, Jan Peerce, tenor (Don Alvaro); Leonard Warren, baritone (Don Carlo); Nicola Moscona, bass (Padre Guardiano). RCA Victor Chorus and Orchestra, Renato Cellini, cond. Plus "Miserere”from Il trovatore, with Milanov and Peerce. (B) (AAD) TT: 58:43

Available from Premiere Opera, Ltd.

Leonora di Vargas, the tragic heroine in Verdi's La forza del destino, was one of Zinka Milanov's signature roles. The Yugoslavian soprano's gorgeous and powerful voice, capable of scaling down to the most exquisite high pianissimo, made her a natural successor to Rosa Ponselle (who made her legendary Met debut as Leonora November 15, 1918). In addition Leonora's glorious music and tragic fate seemed to inspire a kind of dramatic involvement that was sometimes missing from Milanov's performances.

Milanov's Leonora is documented in a complete 1958 RCA recording that also starred Giuseppe di Stefano as Alvaro, Leonard Warren as Carlo, and Giorgio Tozzi as Padre Guardiano. But by the time of this recording, Milanov was entering the latter phase of her career and was somewhat past her best. Three years earlier Milanov recorded, again for RCA, a series of highlights from Forza. In addition to Warren, Milanov was joined by Jan Peerce (Alvaro) and Nicola Moscona (Guardiano). Here Milanov is in better voice than in the 1958 complete recording. In fact, these sessions found Milanov near the peak of her abilities. The glorious climax of "Madre, pietosa Vergine," the sustained piano singing in "La Vergine degli angeli," and the breathtaking opening measures of "Pace, pace, mio Dio" are all moments that haunt the listener long after the recording has ended. Throughout Milanov offers a Leonora of vocal and dramatic grandeur. These Forza excerpts certainly have to number among her finer recorded efforts, and should be heard by all Milanov fans, as well as anyone who treasures great soprano singing.

Also superb is Leonard Warren in the role of Carlo. As with Milanov, Warren is here in better voice than on the 1958 complete recording. Warren's vibrant, warm timbre, flawless legato, and incredible security in the upper register make for a superb Carlo, certainly one of the baritone's finest roles. Indeed it is difficult to think of a baritone who ever sang this challenging music with greater authority.

In this company Jan Peerce somewhat pales by comparison. Always a thoughtful and distinguished artist, Peerce is certainly in excellent voice. But the basic vocal equipment—a lyric tenor with a rather nasal tone and somewhat constricted top—is just not ideal for Alvaro's passionate, heroic music. All one need do is listen to Alvaro as sung by Mario del Monaco, Franco Corelli, or Richard Tucker to sense what is missing in Peerce's scrupulous but somewhat underwhelming performance. Still his dramatic involvement and musicianship count for a great deal. Peerce is certainly far from a negligible presence. Nicola Moscona is fine as Padre Guardiano. Renato Cellini and the RCA Victor Chorus and Orchestra provide admirable support.

As mentioned before, this Forza highlights disc was originally recorded by RCA. The final trio was included on an RCA Zinka Milanov Gold Seal "Vocal Series" CD, now out of print. As RCA has never issued the entire highlights recording on CD, Premiere Opera, Ltd. has now taken up the cause. The compact disc, made from a good LP source, contains a few clicks and pops. But the sound is quite fine, with plenty of impact, warmth, and minimal distortion. As a filler, the CD also includes an excellent 1945 performance of the "Miserere" from Il trovatore, with Milanov and Peerce. My review copy contained only the last names of the singers and conductor. But I understand that Premiere Opera includes cast and track listings with its commercial CDs. For those who don't own this recording, or for those whose LP needs replacing, this Premiere Opera CD fills a regrettable void.

I should mention that there are other options available for those who wish to experience Milanov's Forza Leonora. Two Metropolitan Opera broadcasts (November 29, 1952 and March 17, 1956) have long been available on various private labels. Both feature Milanov and Warren, as well as Richard Tucker, a marvelous Alvaro. I prefer the earlier broadcast, which, to my ears, finds Milanov in better voice. Both are exceptional performances and well worth hearing. However they may be difficult to obtain, particularly in the US, where the Met discourages (to put it mildly) private dissemination of their broadcasts.

Another Forza with Milanov and Warren, from New Orleans, dates from March 1953. Both Milanov and Warren are fabulous, as is Mario del Monaco as Alvaro. The sound is not as good as the 1955 commercial highlights recording, but is certainly more than adequate. The New Orleans Forza also affords you the opportunity to hear a complete performance (albeit with stage cuts typical for that time), issued on two CDs. Like the highlights disc, the New Orleans Forza is available from Premiere Opera, Ltd.