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Theatre / La forza del destino

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1870 poster for the opera

La forza del destino ("The Force of Destiny") is an opera by Giuseppe Verdi, set to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, and adapted from the Spanish play Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino. After its 1862 premiere at the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in Saint Petersburg, the opera has been frequently performed, with many complete recordings.

Set in Spain and Italy around the mid-18th century, the opera tells the story of Don Alvaro, a young South American nobleman with mixed-Inca blood, who is in love with Leonora, the daughter of the Marquis of Calatrava. However, the Marquis strongly disapproves of Alvaro, and when he catches the two lovers just as they're planning to elope, Alvaro attempts to surrender himself. However, his pistol goes off, mortally wounding the Marquis, who dies cursing Leonora.

A year passes since the Marquis' death, and Leonora and Alvaro are separated. One evening at an inn in the village of Hornachuelos, Don Carlo di Vargas, the brother of Leonora, enters the inn disguised as a poor student. He's seeking revenge against Alvaro and Leonora for dishonouring the family name. During supper, a popular young fortune teller known as Preziosilla arrives and persuades the men at the inn to enlist in the war for Italy's freedom. At the same time, Leonora passes through the inn while disguised as a man, as she's on her way to a monastery to live out the rest of her days secluded from mankind. She reveals her true identity to Padre Guardiano, who accepts her into the hermitage.

Meanwhile, Don Alvaro joins the Spanish army under a different name, and one night, he saves the life of Don Carlo, who is also serving under a different name. The two become close friends and fight side by side in battle. However, Alvaro's true identity is revealed when he is severely wounded and asks Don Carlo to destroy a valise of letters, only for Don Carlo to peek at them and discover Leonora's picture. The two of them engage in duel when Alvaro has recovered, but are separated, and Alvaro decides to enter a monastery.

Don Carlo manages to track down Alvaro at the monastery where, unbeknownst to him, Leonora is at. Upon finding him, Don Carlo forces Alvaro into a fight, only to end up mortally wounded. Alvaro runs into Leonora's hermitage for help while the latter is praying, and the two lovers recognize each other. Leonora comes to look at her brother, only for him to stab her in the heart when she bends down. As she returns to Alvaro, with the help of Padre Guardiano, Leonora dies while Alvaro and Padre Guardiano pray to heaven.

The opera's overture has become quite popular in its own right, and has become a standard in orchestral repertoire, often being played at concerts.

This work provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Don Alvaro accidentally kills the Marquis of Calatrava when his pistol goes off, thus kicking off the plot.
  • Big Damn Reunion: Leonora and Don Alvaro in Act IV.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor Leonora; her father gets killed by accident, she gets cursed by said father as he dies, she and her lover separate, and when they reunite, she's stabbed by her wounded brother.
  • But Not Too Foreign: Don Alvaro is from Peru, and is said to be part-Inca; as such, he’s not exactly looked upon very favourably.
  • Christianity is Catholic: The monastery that Leonora goes to is Franciscan. The Franciscans are a sect of the Catholic Church that originated in medieval Italy.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The characters are constantly running into each other in the most unlikely places. Lampshaded by the title and by Alvaro, who considers himself cursed by fate to always hurt Leonora and her family.
  • Dashing Hispanic: Don Carlo could be considered the operatic version of Inigo Montoya.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Leonora dies in Alvaro’s arms after they reunite in Act IV.
  • Downer Ending:
    • The whole Calatrava family is dead, right after Leonora dies in Alvaro’s arms.
    • The version normally performed today is actually comparatively Lighter and Softer; the premiere in Saint Petersburg ended with Alvaro committing suicide. Deciding this was too much of a downer even for an opera, Verdi changed it when he revised the opera in 1869; see under Revised Ending for details.
  • Dying Curse: The Marquis of Calatrava curses Alvaro as he dies in Act I.
  • Elopement: Don Alvaro and Leonora were planning on eloping together in Act I when they’re discovered by the Marquis of Calatrava.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: The Marquis of Calatrava is sung by a bass, while his not-so-evil, yet still hot-headed, son, Don Carlo di Vargas, is sung by a baritone. Meanwhile, the ambiguous Preziosilla is sung by a mezzo-soprano. As for the Franciscans, it's played straight with Fra Melitone, a baritone, but averted with Padre Guardiano, a bass role.
  • Fate: Plays a huge part in this opera. The title does translate to “The Power of Fate”, after all.
  • Fortune Teller: Preziosilla in Act II, when she tells the young men’s fortunes before persuading them to enlist in the war for Italy’s freedom.
  • Good Shepherd: Padre Guardiano.
  • Hope Spot: A small one when Leonora and Alvaro reunite in Act IV.
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: Don Carlo, without a doubt. He's so hell-bent on revenge against Don Alvaro, he'd kill him and Leonora.
  • Latin Lover: Don Alvaro. Bonus points for him being half-Spanish and half-Inca.
  • Lost Orphaned Royalty: Don Alvaro’s aria “La vita è inferno” has him describing how his father had hoped to free his native land from the colonizers and win back his crown.
  • Maid and Maiden: Curra and Leonora have this dynamic in Act I.
  • Meaningful Name: Padre Guardiano; Guardiano is the term for the superior of a Franciscan monastery, but it also translates to ‘guardian’ in Italian.
  • Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure: Don Alvaro (disguised as Don Federico Herreros) and Don Carlo (disguised as Don Felix Bornos) become good friends during their time in the army. But then Don Carlo discovers Alvaro’s letters and realizes his true identity, thus ending their friendship.
  • Prayer Pose: Leonora does one when she sings “Pace, pace, mio Dio”.
  • Precious Photo: Don Alvaro’s valise of letters contains a picture of Leonora, which allows Don Carlo to discover his true identity.
  • Prematurely Grey-Haired: Leonora ends up with some gray hairs by the end of the opera.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: The overture of this opera is frequently performed for concerts.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: The plot is set in motion when Alvaro surrenders by letting his pistol fall to the floor, and it instantly goes off and kills the Marquis.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Don Carlo.
  • Revised Ending: The original ending had Alvaro cursing humanity as he jumps to his death into a ravine over his guilt over causing the death of the entire Calatrava family. The current ending has Leonora die in Alvaro’s arms as he, Leonora, and Padre Guardiano pray to heaven.
  • Romani: Preziosilla.
  • The Scottish Trope: This opera's earned a reputation for being cursed after some unfortunate incidents. For example, in 1960, baritone Leonard Warren collapsed and died during a performance at the Met Opera. In fact, this supposed curse has kept the famous tenor Luciano Pavarotti from ever performing the opera, while Franco Corelli often followed small rituals during performances to avoid bad luck.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Fra Melitone, who is the comic relief for much of the opera, leaves the story just before "Invano, Alvaro" in Act IV and doesn't appear again.
  • Sibling Murder: An already-dying Don Carlo stabs Leonora in the heart in Act IV.
  • Sinister Minister: Fra Melitone, who is stingy with helping out the poor.
  • Taking the Veil: Leonora takes refuge in a monastery to live out the rest of her days there.
  • Tenor Boy: Don Alvaro has shades of this, though he’s a dramatic tenor, and is thus more manly than boyish.
  • War Is Glorious: Preziosilla’s aria “Al suon del tamburo” is basically praising the beauty of war.
  • War of the Austrian Succession: Act III takes place during the Battle of Velletri in 1744, one of the battles during the aforementioned war, between Austria and the Kingdom of Naples.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: In Act II, Leonora is disguised as a man when her brother turns up at the inn.
  • You Killed My Father: Don Carlo towards Don Alvaro.