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Overture to La forza del destino

About the Work

Giuseppe Verdi
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Quick Look Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Manfred Honeck, conductor/Chee-Yun, violin, performs Saint-Saëns Feb. 1 - 3, 2007
© Richard Freed
La forza del destino, the 22nd of Verdi's operas, was completed in 1862 and introduced in St. Petersburg on November 10 of that year; the Overture which opens the present concerts, however, was not heard until February 27, 1869, when the opera, in revised form, was presented at La Scala in Milan. The National Symphony Orchestra's first performance of the Overture was conducted by Alexander Smallens in a Watergate concert on July 19, 1946; the most recent one was conducted by Emil de Cou at Wolf Trap on July 9, 2005.
The score calls for piccolo, flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, 2 harps, and strings. Duration, 8 minutes.
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Verdi composed only two operas for introduction outside Western Europe: Aida, for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo in 1871, and La forza del destino, which the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg commissioned ten years earlier. The backgrounds of these two works have two other details in common: for each of them the originally scheduled premiere had to be postponed, and for each of them Verdi at first provided a brief orchestral prelude which he subsequently expanded into a full-fledged overture—the type of piece designated sinfonia in Italian opera scores—for its first presentation at La Scala some years later. The composer recognized his expanded overture to Aida as a bad idea when he heard it in rehearsal in 1872, and he scrapped it in favor of the original prelude. The new overture he composed three years earlier for the Milan premiere of La forza del destino, however (following performances in Rome, New York and London with the original prelude), was something he was proud of, and he confidently made it a permanent part of the score.

In some of its early productions, this opera was presented under the title Don Alvaro. The libretto, written by Verdi's frequent collaborator Francesco Maria Piave, was based on the Spanish play Don Alvaro, ó La fuerza del sino, written in 1835 by Angel Pedro de Saavedra Ramírez de Banquedano, the Duke of Rivas, with an additional scene borrowed from Friedrich Schiller's earlier drama Wallenstein's Camp. The Overture, generally regarded as the finest of all Verdi's symphonic introductions, is not an encapsulation of the drama, but rather a powerful evocation of its atmosphere, incorporating the "Fate" motif which plays so big a part at the end of Act I and themes from later in the work (Alvaro's aria in Act IV, Leonora's prayer in Act II, her duet with Padre Guardiano).