The Force of Destiny

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The Force of Destiny (Giuseppe Verdi) 1862

I first became interested in this opera after hearing the overture played by Richard Evan’s Leyland Motors Band and later on tv accompanying lager advertisements. More recently during concert performances of ‘La Vergine degli Angeli’, sung in honour of Our Lady on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at the close of act II, I became curious to know more about the opera and the other musical gems it might contain, and resolved to investigate. However, being a great fan of the happy ending I was a little disappointed to find a rather gruesome storyline with a less than uplifting conclusion. It’s just part of the tradition of grand opera I suppose, but people of a sensitive disposition would be well advised to give this musical masterpiece a miss. The opera is set in Seville Spain and in Italy at the time of the wars of Austrian succession between the Austrians and the armies of the King of Naples and his Spanish allies. Alvaro a young South American nobleman of mixed race now settled in Seville falls in love with Leonora, the daughter of the Marquis of Calatrava. Although Leonora knows her father dislikes Alvaro intensely and has high ambitions for her to marry into a noble and wealthy Spanish family, she is deeply in love and agrees to give up everything and elope with him. However the happy couple are unexpectedly discovered by the Marquis as they are about to leave and in the ensuing argument Alvaro’s gun goes off accidentally mortally wounding the Marquis. Carlo, Leonora’s brother swears to avenge his father’s death and sets off to find the couple who are now on the run using false identities. After becoming separated from Alvaro, Leonore takes refuge in a monastery and Alvaro joins the army, searching for the fugitives Carlo, in disguise and with a false name (Pereda) is persuaded by a fortune teller also to join the army to fight the Austrians in Italy. By remarkable co-incidence the two antagonists meet in the same military unit and when Alvaro saves the life of Carlo they become good friends. Things take a turn for the worse however when Alvaro is wounded in the battle of Velletri and thinking he will die from his wounds, hands Carlo a box containing letters to be destroyed on his demise. Becoming curious and suspicious Carlo breaks a promise and opens the box to find a picture of his sister amongst the contents and realises his friend’s true identity. When it transpires that Alvaro is now likely to make a full recovery Carlo confronts him and a struggle develops, they are separated by fellow officers giving the desperate Alvaro the opportunity to escape and seek sanctuary with a religious order, quite by chance close to where Leonore is now living as a hermit. When Carlo arrives a fight ensues in which he is mortally wounded by Alvaro, Leonore alarmed by the disturbance rushes in to discover the tragic scene and recognises her lover and brother lying on the ground. In the turmoil that follows Carlo with last breath manages to fulfil his vengeful promise by stabbing his sister whilst she is bending over him. Alvaro later jumps to his death from a cliff unable to come to terms with the guilt of the tragedy resulting from his passionate affair. We don’t know if Verdi was trying to lighten the bleak conclusion of his opera but in 1869 he added the now familiar overture and had the storyline revised in the last act to allow Alvaro to be the sole survivor of this rather horrific and sad early fore-runner to East Enders. A sad story but wonderful music and well worth listening to.

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