Fate Conquers All: Verdi's 'La Forza del Destino' In Verdi's The Force of Destiny, the inevitability of fate inspires great music, a complex but compelling story, and a controversial production from Vienna, complete with gun toting cowgirls.

Fate Conquers All: Verdi's 'La Forza del Destino'

From the Vienna State Opera

Vienna State Opera on World of Opera -- 'La Forza del Destino'

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  • Nina Stemma ................... Leonora
  • Carlos Alvarez ................... Carlo
  • Salvatore Licitra ............... Alvaro
  • Nadia Krasteva ........... Preziosilla
  • Alastair Miles .... Calatrava/Father Superior
  • Tiziano Bracci ............. Melitone
  • Elisabeta Marin ............... Curra
  • Michael Roider ............. Trabuco
  • Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus
  • Zubin Mehta, conductor


La Forza del Destino features some of Verdi's most dramatic music, and the popular overture previews several of the opera's finest moments. Giuseppe Sinopoli leads a recording with the Philharmonic Orchestra.

Verdi: La Forza del Destino

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By the final act, Leonora has resigned herself to a desolate life, and prays for peace of mind in the aria "Pace, pace, mio Dio." Nina Stemme sings it in Vienna.

Vienna State Opera on World of Opera -- 'La Forza del Destino'

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Nadia Krasteva plays Preziosilla, and Carlos Alvarez is Carlo, in the Vienna State Opera's controversial production of La Forza del Destino. Axel Zeininger/Wiener Staatsoper GmbH hide caption

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Axel Zeininger/Wiener Staatsoper GmbH

When it comes to theatrical entertainment, people tend to regard the opera house as a fairly benign and predictable venue. But that's really not a safe bet, and perhaps it never has been.

For one thing, opera has never been a bashful form of theater, and the dramas themselves often deal with decidedly dodgy subject matter. There's not just passion, politics and revenge. Any number of great operas also throw in graphic elements such as torture, rape, grisly violence and brutal extortion.

Then there are the productions of those operas. Sometimes they're tame and traditional. But on occasion, opera companies treat venerated dramas in ways that make audiences, literally, screaming mad.

On this edition of World of Opera, with host Lisa Simeone, the featured opera has more than its share of thorny plot elements, and the Vienna State Opera's production is enough to make some in the audience shudder — and even shout.

Giuseppe Verdi's La Forza del DestinoThe Force of Destiny — is an opera that can leave even diehard Verdi lovers shaking their heads. Its story can be as confounding as the music is compelling, with a plot in which a single, unfortunate happenstance drives characters to lifetimes of incomprehensible behavior. There's one character who travels the world, braving war and desolation, in an obsessive quest to murder his own sister.

And the production? Verdi's opera is a predominantly dark-hued tragedy, with a grim, historical setting — but it does have contrasting moments of gaiety and spectacle, provided by a high-spirited gypsy woman and her band of lusty camp followers.

In this Vienna production, she and her cohorts become scantily clad cowgirls toting six shooters, while cavorting amidst depictions of bloody battle and its grisly aftermath. Audiences generally gave the show polite ovations, but certain scenes evoked shouts and boos. In the performance featured on World of Opera, at the end of Act Three, a man in the audience is heard screaming "Assassin of Verdi!," provoking sympathetic shouts mixed with an admonishing murmur.

Still, Verdi's stunning score shines through it all, conducted by Zubin Mehta and starring soprano Nina Stemme, tenor Salvatore Licitra and baritone Carlos Alvarez.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

The Story of 'La Forza del Destino'

Alvaro (Salvatore Licitra) is too late to save Leonora (Nina Stemme), in the final act of 'La Forza del Destino' in Vienna. Axel Zeininger/Wiener Staatsoper GmbH hide caption

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Axel Zeininger/Wiener Staatsoper GmbH

ACT ONE: La Forza del Destino has a complex plot, but really only three main characters. Understanding those characters, and what drives them, can go a long way toward clarifying the story.

First there's Don Alvaro. He's the son of a disgraced Spanish nobleman and an Inca princess. He was born in the new world, and his parents have been executed. Back in Spain, Alvaro is trying to establish his reputation. But, given his ancestry, he's frowned upon in noble society, and many people simply call him "The Indian."

The other two characters to focus on are brother and sister, Carlo and Leonora. They're the son and daughter of the Marquis of Calatrava, head of a proud but fading noble house.

The action begins in Leonora's rooms in the Calatrava mansion. After her father says good night and retires, Leonora and her maid, Curra, quietly prepare to leave. Leonora has fallen in love with Alvaro. Her father disapproves of the relationship — to put it mildly. So Leonora and Alvaro have made plans to elope, and Alvaro is expected at any moment.

Leonora is still waffling as to whether she should come clean, and tell her father about their plans. Before she can make up her mind, Alvaro arrives. But as they're about to leave, they hear her father coming up the stairs. When he discovers Leonora and Alvaro together, the Marquis promptly insults Alvaro, and disowns his daughter.

Alvaro says Leonora is innocent of any wrongdoing. Calatrava won't hear it, and challenges Alvaro to a duel. In an act of submission, Alvaro throws down his pistol, offering his own life for his supposed transgressions. But when the gun hits the floor, it accidentally goes off, and Calatrava is fatally wounded. He curses Leonora as he dies, and she escapes with Alvaro.

ACT TWO: The story resumes, more than a year later, at a roadside inn near a small, Spanish town. Leonora and Alvaro have been separated. Carlo, Leonora's brother, has vowed to avenge his father's death by killing both Alvaro and his own sister.

By coincidence, Carlo and Leonora are both staying at the inn. Leonora is traveling in disguise, as a teenaged boy. She spots Carlo from her window as he arrives, and hides in her room to avoid him. Carlo is also incognito, pretending to be a poor student. Carlo knows about the "boy" staying in an upstairs room, and he's suspicious. He asks around about this mysterious guest, but gets no answers.

A gypsy woman called Preziosilla tells everyone about the war being fought in Italy, against the Germans. She urges young men to join the cause, and they agree. The rousing scene is interrupted when a group of pilgrims passes by.

Carlo then tells the others his story, as Leonora eavesdrops from her window. Carlo says he's been tracking an Indian who seduced his sister, and now thinks the man has fled back to South America.

The next scene takes place outside a monastery in the mountains. Leonora, thinking Alvaro has abandoned her, has decided to seek refuge. She rings the monastery bell, and a Monk named Melitone goes to fetch the Father Superior. Leonora tells him her story, and says she wants to live out her life as a pious hermit.

The monks decide she can live alone in a nearby cave. They'll leave food for her, and she'll be given a bell. When she grows old, and feels she's near death, she can ring this bell and someone will come to perform the last rights. Until then, she will never be disturbed. Leonora agrees, and the monks file into the monastery.

ACT THREE: Alvaro is now in Italy, fighting with the Spanish army alongside the Italians. There's a commotion nearby. Carlo, who is also fighting with the army, is under attack, and Alvaro saves his life. Both have joined the war under false names. Neither man knows who the other really is, and they quickly declare a pact of eternal friendship.

The scene changes to the Spanish army camp, where men are watching the battle progress. Their army wins, but Alvaro is carried in, severely wounded. Carlo reassures him, saying he'll receive the order of Calatrava for his bravery. When Alvaro hears the name Calatrava, he says "never," and Carlo begins to wonder if his new friend may actually be his old enemy.

Thinking he's about to die, Alvaro gives Carlo the key to his trunk, saying it contains a packet that must be burned after his death, without being opened. Carlo promises he'll see to it. When he opens the trunk and finds the packet, he has second thoughts, but decides to keep his word.

However, he can't resist rummaging around in Alvaro's other belongings, and he finds a picture of Lenora. Now, knowing Alvaro's real identity, he prays for the wounded man to live so he can kill him himself. When the surgeon announces that Alvaro is going to pull through, Carlo rejoices that he'll finally have a chance to avenge his father.

The next scene is in another military encampment. Learning that Alvaro has fully recovered, Carlo confronts him, but the two are separated by a patrol of soldiers and Carlo is dragged away. Alvaro throws down his sword, and swears he'll retire to a peaceful life in a monastery.

The gypsy woman Preziosilla appears, along with other women who have been following the army. She offers to tell fortunes for the assembled soldiers. Groups of peasants and beggars also come into the camp, along with the monk Melitone, who is shouted down when he tries to deliver a sermon. To close the act, Preziosilla leads a rousing chorus.

ACT FOUR: Five years have passed and the story resumes outside the monastery where Alvaro has taken refuge. It's the same monastery where Leonora sought protection as a hermit many years ago. The cranky Melitone complains about the new friar called "Father Raffaele," the name Alvaro has assumed.

The monastery's bell rings, and the monks find Carlo at the gate, inquiring about Father Raffaele. When Melitone calls for him, the two enemies confront each other again. Carlo wants to fight it out, while Alvaro offers a truce. But when Carlo insults Alvaro as a half-breed, Alvaro has had enough. The two go off, looking for an isolated place to fight a duel.

The last scene takes place in a remote valley, outside the cave where Leonora has been living. In the aria "Pace, mio dio" — "Peace, my lord" — she expresses her love for God, and for Alvaro. When she hears people approaching, she retreats into the cave.

Carlo and Alvaro appear, fighting their duel, and Carlo is mortally wounded. Knowing someone is in the cave, Alvaro calls out. When Leonora emerges, the two recognize each other. She joins him briefly, but then runs off to help her brother. But before long, she staggers back. Carlo stabbed her as he was dying, and now she's near death as well. The Father Superior appears, along with the other monks. They all pray together, in a sequence that becomes a redemptive chorus. Leonora dies, leaving Alvaro to declare that he's been cursed by fate.