Major Operas | La forza del destino by Giuseppe Verdi | High Romantic

The Force of Destiny

La forza del destino was commissioned by the Imperial Theatre, St Petersburg where it premiered in 1862. Verdi considered the opera an ‘excellent success’ with ‘opulent’ settings and costumes, although critics thought the tragic, lugubrious love story had a depressing effect on the audience. It was first performed in New York in 1865 and London in 1867.

Verdi had composed La forza in only two months, and it represented a ‘halfway house’ in his development as an opera composer. The music recalled his earlier, lyrical melodies and instrumentation but also contained the rich orchestration and the darker, more intense atmosphere of his later work. In particular, the tense urgency and rising four-note pattern of the overture offered a foretaste of Verdi’s later music. Despite its success, La forza had a worrying effect on performers: a superstition arose that it was unlucky to mention the opera’s title inside a theatre. In 1869 it was extensively revised for its Milan production.

Composed: 1861–62; rev. 1869
Premiered: 1862, St Petersburg
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, after Angel de Saavedra and Friedrich von Schiller

Act I

Leonora is preparing to elope with Alvaro. Her father, the Marquis of Calatrava, considers Alvaro unworthy. Leonora regrets having to leave her home and family, but when Alvaro arrives she agrees to leave with him. Her father enters and demands an explanation. Alvaro declares that he is abducting Leonora, who is innocent. He then throws down his pistol in a gesture of surrender. The gun goes off, fatally wounding the marquis. He curses Leonora and Alvaro.

Act II

Leonora is looking for Alvaro. Disguised as a man, she enters an inn, observed by Preziosilla, a gypsy girl. Leonora’s brother Carlo also enters the inn, disguised and in search of the couple; he intends to kill them to avenge the death of his father. He questions Trabuco, a muleteer, about the person he has just seen enter the inn. Preziosilla sings of the wars in Italy and pilgrims pass by, on their way to a nearby monastery. Carlo continues to ask Trabuco about the traveller and identifies himself as a student, Pereda, who is helping a friend to track down his sister and her lover who killed their father; the man is thought to have escaped abroad.

Leonora overhears and feels betrayed by Alvaro’s flight abroad. She goes to the monastery and is admitted by brother Melitone. She begs the Padre Guardiano, to whom she reveals her true identity, for forgiveness. He allows her to live in a nearby cave as a hermit. He summons the monks and bids them respect the new hermit’s solitude.


In war-torn Italy, Alvaro sings of his wretched life and asks Leonora – whom he assumes is dead – to look down on him from heaven. Hearing a cry, he hurries to help. A quarrel has broken out over a card game and Carlo is in danger. Alvaro saves him and the men introduce...

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