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It Must Have Been Fate: 'La Forza del Destino'

When puzzling events happen in life — things that simply can't be explained, or at least can't be explained simply — people often put them down to fate. It's as though ascribing our troubles to fate somehow relieves us of the need to understand them. But what is fate, really? At best it's a difficult concept to grasp, much less explain in words. That may be why so many evocations of fate can be heard in music, a medium in which words are optional.

The most iconic musical tribute to fate may or may not have been intentional: It's uncertain whether Beethoven actually considered the opening notes of his Fifth Symphony to be "fate knocking at the door," as they've often been described. But other examples are more obvious, and they come in a wide range of music: from Fatum, a portentous tone poem by Tchaikovsky, to the heavy metal tune "Fates Warning" by Iron Maiden and the catchy song called "Fate" from the Broadway hit Kismet.

Naturally, there are also plenty of operas that dwell on fate, and few do it so dramatically as Giuseppe Verdi's La Forza del Destino — The Force of Destiny.

Verdi composed the opera to end an extended hiatus from music — a three-year span in which he wrote no new operas and actually told friends that he was no longer a composer. The commission that brought him back to the opera house came from the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg. After considering a number of subjects for a new opera, Verdi chose a Spanish play called La fuerza del sino — The Power of Fate. It was adapted by librettist Francesco Maria Piave, who also worked with Verdi on several other operas including I Due Foscari, Macbeth and Rigoletto.

As for the story itself, it's surely appropriate for an operatic exploration of fate. Like so many events in life that are attributed to fate, the goings on in the opera are hard to explain any other way. In truth, they're sometimes difficult to explain at all.

Still, like fate itself, the power of Verdi's score for the opera is undeniable. The music transforms a twisty story line into one of the most compelling of all his operas.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents La Forza del Destino in a production from the Maggio Musicale in Florence, Italy. The stars are soprano Violeta Urmana as Leonora, tenor Salvatore Licitra as her beloved Alvaro and baritone Roberto Frontali as Carlo, who for a moment is Alvaro's ally, but soon becomes his most deadly enemy. The performance is led by conductor Zubin Mehta.

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

Copyright 2011 WDAV

Bruce Scott
Bruce Scott is supervising producer of World of Opera. He also produces NPR's long-running, annual special Chanukah Lights, with Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz.