Desktop versionMobile version
OpenEdition Books

Verdi in Victorian London

Massimo Zicari

14. Don Carlos and La forza del destino (1867)

Full text

1Finally, after five fairly uneventful years, 1867 saw two new operas staged in London that bore the name of the only Italian composer who was able to attract the attention of the international public. On 4 June Don Carlos was performed at Covent Garden and conducted by Michael Costa, while on 22 June La forza del destino was produced at Her Majesty’s Theatre, the conducting duties assumed by Luigi Arditi.

  • 1 “Don Carlos, À Mons. Dishley Peters,” The Musical World, March 16, 1867, p. 161.

2News of the Paris premiere, on 11 March, of Verdi’s new grand opera Don Carlos began circulating in the London press on the 16th, when an anonymous French correspondent contributed a review to the columns of The Musical World.1 The review was published under the pseudonym of “Figaro” and addressed to Mons. Dishley Peters, one of the pseudonyms used by Davison. As Joseph Bennett testified, this name was frequently used by the editor in a column called “Muttonian.” The correspondent expressed himself in terms that were not at all encouraging, declaring himself doubtful as to whether Verdi’s most recent opera would establish itself as a long-lasting success. The critic sketched an image of one man who nevertheless embodied two composers of different value: the Verdi who had created such masterpieces as Ernani, Rigoletto, Trovatore and La traviata, and the one whose most recent attempts relied on the public’s forbearance, for they lacked the necessary dramatic power and therefore failed to convince.

  • 2 “As I was saying just now, there are two Verdis; the one who creates near- masterpieces; the other (...)

Comme je le disais tout à l’heure, il y a deux Verdi; l’un, qui fait de quasi chefs-d’œuvre; l’autre, qui illumine une partition tout entière de trois ou quatre morceaux à effet seulement, comptant, pour le reste, sur la longanimité du public. Don Carlos, malheureusement, est dû à la plume de ce dernier. Il y a, parbleu! clairsemées çà et là, des pages énergiques, bien vivantes, empruntées, volées même au vrai Verdi, mais l’ensemble est boiteux; la griffe du maitre apparait quelquefois, mais ce n’est que par éclairs.2

3The composer’s mistake, the critic continued, lay in his repeated attempt to follow a route that did not belong to him; this he did by imitating Meyerbeer and the French dramatic style. Don Carlos’s third act, together with some more isolated pieces, genuinely reflected Verdi’s old style, but the rest was quite contemptible. Finally, the French critic suggested that the opera could be improved by shortening it significantly and adding a ballet.

  • 3 The Musical World, March 30, 1867, p. 188.
  • 4 The Musical World, April 6, 1867, pp. 203–05.

4A couple of weeks later, on 30 March, Gye announced the forthcoming season of the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden, which would commence on 2 April with the performance of Bellini’s Norma. Two novelties were included in the prospectus: Verdi’s Don Carlos and Charles Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette.3 On 6 April a similar announcement was made by Mapleson, informing the patrons and subscribers of Her Majesty’s Theatre that the Italian opera season there would open on 27 April and include the premiere of Verdi’s La forza del destino, together with the revival of I Lombardi. While the second work was chosen for the opening night, little mention was made of why the production of the first had been delayed for three years. The problem had been finding a tenor equal to the musical requirements of the work; the engagement of Pietro Mongini now removed the difficulty.4

  • 5 Ibid., p. 216.
  • 6 Ibid.
  • 7 The Musical World, April 13, 1867, p. 225.

5When the critic of The Musical World commented on the prospective performance of Verdi’s Don Carlos, he referred to the “at first doubtful but now apparently unquestioned” success of the opera in Paris, a success due to some of the finest music ever written by its composer.5 The readers were informed that as the original Paris version was exceedingly long, some judicious cuts would be made by the conductor Michael Costa. The London public would not endure a performance as lengthy as that presented in Paris, and if Rossini, Auber and Meyerbeer had been subject to a similar treatment, it would be “no indignity for Signor Verdi to be submitted to the same indispensable operation.”6 Raising the public’s expectations even further, The Musical World later published another report from a French correspondent, which included excerpts from the reviews appearing in Le Moniteur and Le Constitutionnel. The opera was pronounced an unquestionable financial success, as demonstrated by the fact that the theatre continued to fill with audiences. However, its popularity was not due to the compositional style on which the composer’s previous successes were based; in fact, a new, completely different style was now recognizable. Don Carlos was said to be based on the theories of modern classical music and the figure of Richard Wagner was evoked to suggest the kind of influence that might have played a role in Verdi’s development. As the critic of Le Moniteur put it, one thing was certain, “namely, that Verdi has completely modified his earlier methods, and adopted principles analogous to those of the German master.”7 Some of the French critics referred to a third style in Verdi but expressed strong doubts as to the extent to which the new phase would please the public and grant the composer a success equal to that obtained by his previous operas. Although the English public had not yet had the opportunity to listen to any of Wagner’s dramas, the antagonistic attitude exhibited by the London critics towards the so-called “music of the future” would predictably cast a shadow on the prospective production of Verdi’s new opera; at the same time, the parallel drawn between Wagner’s controversial theories and Verdi’s new style could not but excite general curiosity.

6In the meantime Un ballo in maschera was performed at Covent Garden on 23 April, while I Lombardi was revived at Her Majesty’s Theatre on the 30th. These revivals prompted the critic of The Musical World to elaborate on the different qualities of the two operas, especially when compared to the still unheard but already much-discussed new style developed in Don Carlos.

  • 8 The Musical World, May 4, 1867, p. 278.

Especially interesting is it to note the distinction in style and method of working between I Lombardi and Don Carlos—the one full of vulgarities and crudities, but also rich in melody and dramatic power; the other elaborated to an extent that wearies sadly the always expecting and constantly disappointed listener.8

  • 9 Ibid., p. 279.

7For Un ballo in maschera the critic again expressed words of strong appreciation, as it contained some of Verdi’s best music. “Don Carlos has yet to make its appearance among us, and meanwhile the third act of Un ballo will rank, in the judgment of English connoisseurs, nearest to the last act of Il trovatore, the second finale of La traviata, and certain scenes in Rigoletto, generally accredited as the Bussetese [sic] master’s capo d’opera.”9 However, the judgment that appeared in the same journal one week later, regarding the qualities and shortcomings of I Lombardi, was tepid. The critic dug up some of the grievances that had accompanied its first appearance in London in 1846.

  • 10 The Musical World, May 11, 1867, p. 294.

Though the music has all the crudeness, all the vapour, and much of the empty noise of his earliest style, with little of that strong dramatic feeling and striking melodic invention which have marked his later works, it is still essentially “Verdi,” and therefore must interest the many warm admirers of Verdi’s genius.10

  • 11 Ibid.
  • 12 The Times, May 6, 1867, p. 12.

8The critic could neither conceal nor deny that Verdi’s music contained certain salient qualities, on account of which the composer had become famous not only in his home country but also abroad. The usual grumbles concerning the choral music being almost everywhere in unison, the orchestra for the most part too noisy and the vocal solos excessively strenuous outweighed the critic’s sporadically appreciative remarks. A few glimpses of fancy, some occasional true melodic inventions and dramatic colouring were definitely present in I Lombardi. Specific reference was made to the vocal qualities exhibited by Tietjens, who had successfully mastered the “extremely fatiguing, nearly always overstrained, often difficult and rarely effective music of Giselda.”11 The opera, whose score had been subject to some “judicious curtailments” by Arditi, was said to be well worth a hearing but still unlikely to be revived again. The very same article appeared in the columns of The Times on 6 May, again suggesting that Davison supervised both periodicals.12

9One week later, a review of the just-commenced opera season at Covent Garden was published in the columns of the Saturday Review, where short mention was made of the repeated performance of Un ballo in maschera. It was a shame to see this opera performed again, when other less frequently revived operas were of much greater value. The critic expressed his regret at being obliged to listen to Verdi’s rendition of Eugène Scribe’s drama, while Daniel Auber’s grand opera on the same subject was so much better.

  • 13 The Musical World, May 18, 1867, p. 313, from The Saturday Review.

How deliciously fresh, melodious, and natural is the music of [Auber’s] Fra Diavolo, from the sparkling overture, with its characteristic drums and trumpets, to the end, compared with that of certain operas we are forced to listen to, and which we would willingly change for some other such comic work from the same prolific pen! For instance, Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera—which we have had twice already, and which brought back, in the character of Amelia, the heroine, that most uninteresting of prime donne assolute, Mdlle. Fricci—might well be laid aside for a season in favour of Auber’s Gustave III, founded upon the same story, laid out in the same manner, and the music of which is worth all that Verdi ever composed.13

10Quite similar critical remarks appeared soon afterwards in the same journal, and for analogous reasons, when the critic held that I Lombardi should be considered one of Verdi’s worst operas.

  • 14 The Musical World, May 25, 1867, p. 335, from The Saturday Review.

When we repeat that I Lombardi contains an air for the tenor (Oronte), “La mia letizia,” one or two spirited though by no means well-written choruses, short, abrupt, noisy, and generally in unison, a somewhat tortured prayer for Giselda, with occasional passages of less importance, we have said all that can justly be said in favour of the music in what is decidedly one of Verdi’s worst operas and one of the worst operas ever composed.14

  • 15 The Musical World, June 8, 1867, p. 376.
  • 16 Harry R. Beard, “‘Don Carlos’ on the London Stage: 1867 to 1869,” in Atti del II Congresso internaz (...)

11On 4 June, the premiere of Don Carlos was conducted by Michael Costa at Covent Garden, while, after a revival of Il trovatore, La forza del destino was in rehearsal at Her Majesty’s Theatre. A laconic review of Don Carlos made its appearance on 8 June in the columns of The Musical World, in which only brief mention was made of the music’s value: “As a work of art, Don Carlos is, perhaps, the most complete and masterly of Verdi’s productions.”15 The critic showed himself to be much more generous when commenting on the excellent quality of the performance and its splendid success among the public. Don Carlos was presented in the Italian translation by Achille de Lauzières, and even though Costa had shortened it by eliminating the first act almost completely and by cutting the ballet, its performance was still exceedingly long.16 It ran for seven performances and was revived the following season, thereafter to be abandoned for 65 years. On 15 June, a more articulate review of the opera was published in the columns of The Musical World (the same article had already been published in The Times on 10 June), emphasising the extent to which Verdi was indebted to Meyerbeer in both musical and dramatic terms. In spite of all that was indifferent, dull and heavy, Verdi’s new opera included some of the finest music he had ever composed. But, the critic suggested, everything that was good in the opera originated from a careful imitation of Meyerbeer’s model, and the finale of Act II in the Italian version represented a case in point.

  • 17 The Musical World, June 15, 1867, p. 387.

In the finale to what, in the Italian version of the opera, is the second act, he has successfully imitated the vast outline and elaborate details of Meyerbeer, and on a ground, too, where, among recent dramatic composers, Meyerbeer has hitherto stood alone and unapproached. The plan is as broad, the treatment as dramatic, the instrumentation as pompous, and the general effect as bold and imposing as in the finales to several of Meyerbeer’s operas which we need not stop to signalize by name; and if the substratum is not quite original, that is almost the only point of inferiority to be laid to signor Verdi’s charge.17

  • 18 Ibid.
  • 19 “Verdi’s ‘Don Carlos,’” The Musical World, June 29, 1867, pp. 425–27.

12In terms of musical-dramatic progress, Verdi seemed faithful to and consistent with his previous works and recent development, a circumstance that led the critic to object to the so-called third style. “What French critics, in speaking of Don Carlos call ‘Verdi’s transformation,’ is all ‘moonshine.’ The music of the new opera is as pure ‘Verdi’ as anything Verdi ever gave to the world.”18 It was just Verdi, but with a strongly marked tendency for imitating Meyerbeer, a tendency also shared by other contemporary composers. Despite the incongruities in the dramatic plot, for which not only Schiller but also the French librettists were held responsible, and although Verdi’s technical ability could not rival Meyerbeer’s genius, Don Carlos was said to be “crowded with beauties of a more or less elevated order.” It was difficult to recall a more remarkable operatic event than its performance at Covent Garden. Having failed to analyse Verdi’s score in greater detail, the critic of The Musical World returned to that task on 29 June, when an ample, but still incomplete review of the music made its appearance. To start with, the libretto was cumbersome and dull, too heavily reliant on the enthusiastic friendship between Don Carlos and the Marquis de Posa, who continually exchanged vows and embraces. This, together with the illicit love between Don Carlos and the Queen, formed the core business of the entire libretto which, to make things worse, was at variance with the true story of Don Carlos. The transformation in Verdi’s style on which the Parisian critics had prated so much, the critic claimed, existed solely in their imagination. “We do not say that he has never been happier than in Don Carlos, but we must insist that he was never more emphatically the Verdi we have all long known, the Verdi who for twenty years and more has obtained the willing ear of Europe.”19 The critic called attention to many felicitous moments in the score, notwithstanding some self-borrowing and minor flaws in the treatment of the harmony.

13Upon conclusion of the London opera season the critic of The Musical World referred to Verdi’s operas in terms that confirmed the scepticism he had already expressed. Although it was impossible to deny Verdi’s international reputation, it rested upon the success of two or three operas out of twenty, among which Il trovatore was considered one of the best. For its part, Don Carlos showed little chance of surviving a second year, as it lacked those bright melodies and concertato pieces that were characteristic of many of Verdi’s previous operas.

  • 20 The Musical World, August 17, 1867, p. 556.

That it contains much of Signor Verdi’s most elaborate and carefully- considered music has been asseverated by nine critics out of ten. Nor are we prepared to question the fact. All we wish to say is that it contains not one of those bright melodies that have made the fame of other operas from the same pen—not one concerted piece to rank with the quartet in Rigoletto or the quintet in Un ballo in maschera, and not one grand finale equal in “effect” to the finale in Ernani, Act III, or the finale in La traviata, Act II. The piece, moreover, is, for a musical libretto, hopelessly dreary.20

14The critic was appreciative of the composer’s earlier operas on account of a feature, melodiousness, which had once been considered missing, lacking or simply badly executed, sacrificed as it had been to a declamatory style which undermined the Italian vocal tradition and strained the singers’ voice. To our surprise, not only was the critic reconsidering the negative judgment he had repeatedly expressed in the past (witness the reviews of Ernani and Nabucco in 1846, or those of Rigoletto in 1853 and Il trovatore in 1855), he was also lamenting a lack of melodiousness in Verdi’s new style which appeared all the more striking when considered in comparison to the melodiousness of his early operas.

15The critic of The Illustrated London News, who reviewed Don Carlos on 15 June 1867, argued that in this opera Verdi seemed to have assimilated the lesson of the “German school,” but was not able to provide evidence to support that claim. It was not clarified how that influence was manifest in Verdi’s new compositional style; nor was it sufficiently elucidated whether by “German school” Wagner’s works and theories were to be understood. The critic appreciated the turn taken by the Italian composer but doubted whether the more erudite style of Verdi’s new opera would continue to fulfil the public’s expectations, the implicit assumption being that he was successful as a popular composer.

  • 21 The Illustrated London News, June 15, 1867, p. 606.

His studies in the German school are calculated to increase our respect for his attainments as an artist; but we are not sure that the learned music of this opera will prove as grateful to the popular ear as the familiar melodies of his earlier days. Nor is the subject favourable to popularity.21

16Verdi’s forte lay more in the concertato pieces than in the airs for solo voice; however, he appeared to be a composer of genius. The critic called attention to the quality of the quartet in the third act, “Sia maledetto il rio sospetto,” which, he held, “evinces a power of combination worthy of Meyerbeer,” and to the finest air in the whole opera, “O mia regina!,” which, to his surprise, was not given to the heroine, but to Princess Eboli, a subordinate player.

  • 22 The Athenaeum, June 8, 1867, p. 765.

17As usual, the critic of The Athenaeum proved to be the least lenient with regard to both the composer and the opera. In his review of Don Carlos, appearing on 8 June, he denied that Verdi’s compositional style had developed at all, although he appeared to be “more careful in his instrumentation than when he began—more original in combination.”22 Verdi’s style was still coarse and harsh and, as a logical consequence, at variance with what was supposedly beautiful in the musical art. The composer was consistent with himself, since Don Carlos demonstrated that his preference for morbid, violent, cruel subjects had never really changed. When compared to his previous work, Verdi’s latest opera did not really present any sign of genuine improvement, but rather a more mature sense of detachment:

  • 23 Ibid.

But the young blood which moved this has apparently chilled; and what we have in its place (to judge from its writer’s late operas) is a pretence to accomplishments which he has not yet thoroughly acquired, not relieved by that coarse, spontaneous crudity, or by those occasional glimpses of a more delicate spirit, which, in a period of great, yet not unprecedented decadence (opera having always had its ebbs and flows), seduced the play-going public into the conviction that another great composer had risen above the horizon. There has been no transformation of Signor Verdi’s humour,—merely a change from one to another form of it: nothing in any respect analogous to what was done by Signor Rossini when, after being the most Italian of opera composers, he wrote his Swiss Guillaume Tell for the Grand Opéra of Paris.23

18Though his initial coarseness had softened, Verdi’s compositional skills had not really evolved, nor had he showed a broader expressive palette; his preference for bloody stories and cruel plots was still predominant. Don Carlos was pronounced by the critic “a stale, dismal and inflated work,” while Il trovatore continued to be his best achievement.

  • 24 The Musical Times, July 1, 1867, p. 97.
  • 25 Ibid.
  • 26 Ibid.
  • 27 Ibid.

19In the late 1860s, The Musical Times also started reviewing operatic performances in London on a regular basis and on 1 July 1867, it pronounced Don Carlos “neither better nor worse than the later productions of this composer.”24 Although infinitely superior to I Lombardi, it would not overshadow works like Trovatore, La traviata or even Rigoletto. The model provided by Meyerbeer was mentioned with regard to the great tableau concluding the second Act, while Verdi was said to have gained his fame by a “few cantabile and catching melodies, interspersed with spasmodic vocal effects and coarse instrumentation.”25 Upon perusal of the score, the critic called attention to some of the most interesting moments in the work and mentioned the “muscular school of writing for which Verdi is so remarkable.”26 The critic could not deny Don Carlos’s popular success but had to confess his preference for the composer’s earlier works; this new opera was “at least entitled to respect, as the earnest attempt of a composer to escape from a style which his better nature must have whispered to him was inartistic and unreal.”27

20A later article appeared in the columns of The Musical Times bearing the signature of Henry C. Lunn, whose nasty attitude towards Verdi in 1867 may remind us of Davison’s approach 22 years earlier. When called upon to comment on the London musical season in September that year, he could not avoid lamenting the sad circumstance of being given two new operas to endure, both composed by Verdi.

  • 28 “The London Musical Season,” The Musical Times, September 1, 1867, p. 141.

We have been so nauseated with Verdi’s music lately that it was with dismay that we read the prospectuses of the two Italian Opera-houses for the season just concluded. There could be something worse, we found, than the promise of a new opera by Verdi, and that was the promise of two new operas by Verdi.28

  • 29 Marcello Conati, “Verdi, Il Grand Opéra ed il ‘Don Carlos,’” in Atti del II Congresso internazional (...)
  • 30 See Conati, “Verdi, Il Grand Opéra ed il ‘Don Carlos,’” p. 271.

21With Don Carlos a development, or at least a change, in Verdi’s style appeared clear even to those critics who were least inclined to acknowledge a true turn towards a third phase. Not even the most reluctant could deny an audible difference between his first accomplishments and the later works. With the one exception of The Illustrated London News, none of the critics taken into consideration seemed to agree with their French colleagues on the extent to which Wagner and the so-called German school might have influenced Verdi’s recent development. Instead, Meyerbeer was often mentioned when it came to identifying the models from which, according to some, Verdi had taken inspiration. Modern scholars have discussed at length the relationship between Verdi and the French Grand-Opéra and it is clear that the composer was writing for Paris in a tradition that had Meyerbeer for its strongest representative.29 Whatever the reason why French critics were referring to Wagner, the influence the German composer may have exerted upon the Italian is controversial. In fact, at that time Verdi’s knowledge of Wagner’s music was limited.30 Moreover, while Tannhäuser’s first performance in Paris was given on 13 March 1861 at the Salle Le Peletier of the Paris Opéra, in 1867 London Wagner’s music was not really known. The few and far-between performances of single excerpts from Wagner’s operas had not left a strong impressions on both London critics and operagoers, and it was not until 1870 that an opera bearing the name of Wagner would be fully performed in London. It was Der Fliegende Holländer, given in Italian as L’Olandese Dannato at Drury Lane.

  • 31 The Times, June 24, 1867, p. 9; the same article appeared in The Musical World, June 29, 1867, p. 4 (...)
  • 32 Ibid.
  • 33 Ibid.

22In the meantime, the much-talked-of Swedish soprano Christine Nilsson made her first appearance at Her Majesty’s Theatre as Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata, while Clarice Sinico appeared as Leonora in Il trovatore. The choice should not surprise us, since it was a common managerial strategy to revive some old operas from the same composer whose most recent accomplishment was in preparation; the older operas would market the new one and raise the public’s expectations. The announced novelty at Her Majesty’s Theatre was, in fact, La forza del destino, which would be performed on 22 June. Two days later, The Times introduced the new opera to its readers and informed them of the “comparative ill fortune” it experienced on the continent, owing to its extremely intricate plot. The first performance of La forza del destino in London featured Thérèse Tietjens, Zelia Trebelli-Bettini, Tom Hohler, Charles Santley, Hans Rokitansky, Edouard Gassier, Pietro Mongini, Baumeister, Foli and Bossi. Such a strong cast was declared a very happy circumstance indeed, since Verdi’s music continued to impose unceasing strain upon the singers’ voice and not everybody was able to sustain his strongly dramatic roles.31 A long description of the intricate plot followed, after which the critic indulged in an analysis of the composition: “The music to which Verdi has married this strange galimatias, though very unequal, contains much that is good, some, indeed as good as any he has produced.”32 The overture was pronounced “unimportant and short,” the first scene “charming,” the duet in the second scene “not very remarkable,” Preziosilla’s “Canzone” in Act II “rhythmical, spirited, and melodious,” Don Carlos’ “Ballata” “humorous,” the “Miserere” scene a “felicitous masterpiece.” The critic suggested that the opera was entirely made up of recitatives, airs, duets and choruses, while the concerted pieces (to which Verdi owed much of his reputation) were entirely missing. Other moments of the opera, although pronounced unimpressive or artificial, were rendered magnificent by the singers impersonating the main characters, while much spirited music was to be found in the choruses and the dance pieces. In general, the opera was pronounced a success, at least in popular terms: “We may return to La forza del destino, and meanwhile must conclude with saying that it was received, in spite of the absurd improbabilities and accumulating horrors of the story, with unqualified favour throughout. There were several encores besides the one we have mentioned.”33

23The critic of The Illustrated London News seemed to appreciate the opera which, he maintained, was a popular success. With regard to the music, he insisted on the influence of the “German school” being remarkably evident. Verdi was pronounced a real artist and the performance a true accomplishment.

  • 34 The Illustrated London News, June 29, 1867, p. 655.

As a musical work, it is very much in the style which the author has adopted in some of his later productions—a style founded on the German school, and more remarkable for the Teutonic construction of its concerted scenes than for the Italian flow and sweetness of its melodies. There are, however, many powerful as well as beautiful things in the music; and the opera, taken as a whole, is undeniably the work of a real artist. The manner in which it has been produced and is represented entitles the management of the theatre and the performers to the warmest praise.34

24The Athenaeum, predictably, was particularly hostile and La forza del destino was judged inferior even to Don Carlos. To start with, the critic agreed with his colleague from The Times on the plot being intricate to the extreme.

  • 35 The Athenaeum, June 29, 1867, p. 859.

[The story] is of the highest extravagance, containing an attempted abduction,—scenes with monks, soldiers, gipsies,—an accidental murder,—and three deaths by duel vengeance and suicide, which close the story in the midst of a thunderstorm. To disentangle all the twistings and windings of such a tale, not too easy to follow, would serve no good purpose.35

25The music, while lacking in that pure individual melody which one would expect from any Italian composer, had some merit in the orchestral accompaniments (although it was also argued that they were instrumental in concealing the meagreness of the melody). The “quintet” with double chorus, no. 9 in Act II, was the best piece, the “tarantella” was pronounced interesting, while the gypsy’s “rataplan” song and chorus were commonplace. Although Verdi was one of the few living composers in Europe in a position to claim critical attention, the critic was no more inclined to accept or get used to those defects and extravagances of which the Italian musician was the strongest representative.

  • 36 “Her Majesty’s Theatre,” The Musical Times, July 1, 1867, p. 97.
  • 37 Ibid.

26Upon the conclusion of the operatic season, The Musical Times reviewed La forza del destino and drew the reader’s attention to the merits of the Swedish prima donna Christine Nilsson, a worthy successor of Jenny Lind. The opera proved attractive thanks to the wonderful vocal and dramatic talents exhibited by the singer rather than to the quality of the music itself. The libretto consisted of the usual accumulation of horrors and excesses, but the music showed that the composer had evolved from his earlier style: “The writing is less forced, the melodies, although neither very new nor very striking, seem exactly such as the situations produced without effort in the mind of the composer; and the orchestration has less of that constant straining after glaring effects so observable in most of Verdi’s works.”36 The critic argued that although there were many effective moments scattered throughout the work, in so far as the music of the gipsy, Preziosilla, and the “Aria buffa” for Fra Melitone were concerned, the result was disappointing. Instead, the prayer in the second act, the romance “O tu che” for Don Alvaro and the “rataplan” (solo and chorus) were considered worthy of notice, while the duet between Don Alvaro and Don Carlo was declared “unquestionably the best piece of dramatic writing in the opera.”37

  • 38 The Musical World, August 17, 1867, pp. 555–56.

27Among the English commentators, the idea of a third style becoming manifest with La forza del destino remained questionable, as the critic of The Musical World testifies: “Nor can we detect in this opera, any more than in its successor, the change of style with which some critics have recently accredited Signor Verdi—unless, indeed, the change be from a certain sustained brilliancy to a certain elaborate dullness; but this would appear the result of fading invention rather than of deliberate design.”38

28However, not everybody seemed to agree that the recent change in Verdi’s style was meaningless or even non-existent. When Frederick Crowest, in his Verdi: Man and Musician (1897), commented on the transition to Verdi’s third style he argued that the transformation was already manifest in La forza del destino.

  • 39 Crowest, Verdi, pp. 148–49.

The change of style which was, later on, to show itself so unmistakably in Aida, Otello, and Falstaff was beginning to possess the composer’s mind. Sufficient of the new manner oozed out in La Forza del Destino for critics and analysts now to point to that opera as the work in which Verdi’s third style first begins to be traceable, and it can scarcely be surprising that an unprepared public failed to be impressed with the first hintings at a new style which had yet to be placed before the musical world in a matured and comprehendible state.39


1 “Don Carlos, À Mons. Dishley Peters,” The Musical World, March 16, 1867, p. 161.

2 “As I was saying just now, there are two Verdis; the one who creates near- masterpieces; the other who brightens an entire score with three or four pieces for effect only, counting for the rest on the forbearance of the public. Don Carlos, unfortunately, is attributable to the quill of the latter. There are, egad!, scattered here and there, pages that are energetic, lively, borrowed, stolen even from the true Verdi, but the whole is lame; the signature of the master appears from time to time, but only in flashes.” Ibid.

3 The Musical World, March 30, 1867, p. 188.

4 The Musical World, April 6, 1867, pp. 203–05.

5 Ibid., p. 216.

6 Ibid.

7 The Musical World, April 13, 1867, p. 225.

8 The Musical World, May 4, 1867, p. 278.

9 Ibid., p. 279.

10 The Musical World, May 11, 1867, p. 294.

11 Ibid.

12 The Times, May 6, 1867, p. 12.

13 The Musical World, May 18, 1867, p. 313, from The Saturday Review.

14 The Musical World, May 25, 1867, p. 335, from The Saturday Review.

15 The Musical World, June 8, 1867, p. 376.

16 Harry R. Beard, “‘Don Carlos’ on the London Stage: 1867 to 1869,” in Atti del II Congresso internazionale di studi verdiani (Parma: Istituto di Studi Verdiani, 1971), p. 67.

17 The Musical World, June 15, 1867, p. 387.

18 Ibid.

19 “Verdi’s ‘Don Carlos,’” The Musical World, June 29, 1867, pp. 425–27.

20 The Musical World, August 17, 1867, p. 556.

21 The Illustrated London News, June 15, 1867, p. 606.

22 The Athenaeum, June 8, 1867, p. 765.

23 Ibid.

24 The Musical Times, July 1, 1867, p. 97.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 “The London Musical Season,” The Musical Times, September 1, 1867, p. 141.

29 Marcello Conati, “Verdi, Il Grand Opéra ed il ‘Don Carlos,’” in Atti del II Congresso internazionale di studi verdiani (Parma: Istituto di Studi Verdiani, 1971), pp. 242–79.

30 See Conati, “Verdi, Il Grand Opéra ed il ‘Don Carlos,’” p. 271.

31 The Times, June 24, 1867, p. 9; the same article appeared in The Musical World, June 29, 1867, p. 423.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 The Illustrated London News, June 29, 1867, p. 655.

35 The Athenaeum, June 29, 1867, p. 859.

36 “Her Majesty’s Theatre,” The Musical Times, July 1, 1867, p. 97.

37 Ibid.

38 The Musical World, August 17, 1867, pp. 555–56.

39 Crowest, Verdi, pp. 148–49.


Print version