Opera in four acts on a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
, from Don Alvàro o la Fuerza del Sino
by A. Saavedra, Duke of Rivas.Première:
St. Petersburg, Imperial Theatre, November 10th, 1862.
Act I. In Italy and Spain in the middle of the 18th century. Don Alvaro tries to abduct Donna Leonora, daughter of the marquis of Calatrava, but he is discovered by the head of the house, who does not want him as son-in-law because he is of low rank. The young man takes all the blame for the failed abduction, saying the girl had nothing to do with it. He throws the pistol he was brandishing to the ground, but a shot goes off accidentally, killing the marquis, who, with his dying breath, curses his daughter.
Act II. Donna Leonora is searching for Alvaro. Hoping to run into him, she disguises herself as a student and goes into a tavern, but does not find him. The gypsy Preziosilla notices the ruse, but says nothing to betray the girl. Leonora's brother Carlo also enters the tavern. He is looking for the two lovers, whom he has sworn to kill. In anguish, Leonora seeks refuge in the Convent of Madonna of the Angels. Welcomed by brother Melitone, she is taken before the guardian father. Only he will know her true identity. She goes to a hermitage not far from the convent; no one may go near that place, and the guardian father exhorts the others not to violate the girl's secret.
Act III. The battle rages in Italy between the imperial faction and the Spaniards. Don Alvaro, under false name, is fighting in the ranks of the Franco-Spanish army near Velletri. He is convinced that Donna Leonora is dead. In battle, he saves a compatriot: it is Don Carlo. Without recognising him, this last makes a pact of brotherhood with Alvaro. Wounded, Don Alvaro gives him a parcel and asks him to destroy it. Don Carlo discovers it contains a portrait of his sister, Leonora. He now realises who the man is who saved him. As soon as Alvaro is better, he challenges him to mortal duel, but barely do they started crossing swords when a patrol comes by. Both must escape or risk being arrested. At the camp another day is dawning and vivandières and soldiers go about their daily business.
Act IV. Convent of the Angels. In the cloister, the poor wait patiently for the distribution of food, handed out by brother Melitone. Among the monks there is a new one, father Raffaele, the name taken by Don Alvaro in hiding. Don Carlo manages to find him and once again challenges him to a duel to the death. Before the fight, Don Raffaele unfrocks himself in order not to commit sacrilege; Don Alvaro wins the duel, mortally wounding Don Carlo. The dying man asks for a confessor, and Don Alvaro goes to the door of the hermitage to look for one. It is here that Leonora resides; the two recognise each other, and Don Alvaro tells her the latest terrible news. She runs to her brother, who, as he expires, achieves his terrible pledge by piercing her through with his sword. Alvaro holds her as the guardian father gives her extreme unction and comforts her in her last moments.
It was in 1861, when the unity of Italy was barely a year old, that Verdi received a gratifying but demanding request: Camillo Benso Count of Cavour contacted him to ask him to accept a candidacy in the elections for the House of Deputies. A few months later another important communication arrived to the Maestro: the Imperial Theatre of St. Petersburg intended to commission an opera from him. The Russians suggested a subject: Ruy Blas by Victor Hugo, but shortly after, this idea is put aside because of problems with the censors. Then Verdi proposed the play of the Duke of Rivas, noble Spanish playwright, Don Alvaro o la Fuerza del Sino, that had triumphed in Madrid theatres ten years earlier. St. Petersburg accepted the suggestion, and the contract was immediately drawn up with a generous recompense to the Maestro, who contacted Francesco Maria Piave urging him to start work immediately on the new libretto. In 1861 Piave was in Busseto to set down the outline for the opera with Verdi, and after two months of hard work in Milan, he returned there; from then on, their communications were by letter. At the end of November, the libretto was ready but not the musical score. Nonetheless, Verdi left for St. Petersburg together with Giuseppina Strepponi, but the primadonna Emilia La Grua took ill, and the première of the opera was postponed until the next season. Finally, on November 10th, 1862, La forza del destino was performed before the public of the Imperial Theatre. Tsar Alexander II attended the fourth performance accompanied by the Tsarina (he had been unable to attend the first performances because he was ill). At the end of the performance the Tsar summoned Verdi in order to congratulate him personally; following this important recognition, a few days later Verdi was awarded the Imperial and Royal Order of St. Stanislaus. Verdi's Russian season thus ended brilliantly, but the fortune of the opera continued, meriting great success in Madrid as well.
On February 27th, 1869 the opera opened in Milan at the Scala Theatre with several modifications. Verdi asked for help from Antonio Ghislanzoni since Francesco Maria Piave was gravely ill. Changes were made to the third act from the sixth scene to the end, the fourth act from the fifth scene to the end and the finale in which Don Alvaro no longer throws himself from the cliff to his death, but kneels before the guardian father, who urges him to humble himself before God.