It is appropriate that the first recording of the first version of Forza should come from St Petersburg, where the work had its premiere in 1862. However, whilst the premiere was predominantly an Italian affair, this set is given entirely by Russian artists. The differences between this version and Verdi's 1869 revision for La Scala are marked: they are delineated by two essays in the accompanying booklet but even more discerningly in Julian Budden's indispensable The Operas of Verdi (in this case Vol. 2, Cassell: 1978). So it isn't necessary for me to rehearse here all the changes (even if I had the space to do so), only the main ones.
“This marks the final offering from Opera Rara's laudable restoration of BBC broadcasts from the 1970s and '80s of Verdi's first thoughts on specific operas, and it is quite up to the standard of the series. It differs only in being given without an audience, and was broadcast two years after the recording. On disc we know the 1862 original Forza from Gergiev's Philips set recorded, appropriately enough, in St Petersburg. That version is by and large finely cast with Russian singers and excitingly conducted, but this one, featuring British artists and one North American, need hardly fear the comparison. John Matheson may be a slightly more measured interpreter than Gergiev but he is perhaps even more adept at disclosing the many subtleties in shaping the slightly sprawling score as a unified whole. His orchestra provides fine playing – special praise for the first clarinet before Alvaro's Act 3 solo – and the BBC Singers nicely characterise their roles.
Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" is one of the most difficult of his operas to cast properly. The demands of the music for the 5 principals are quite formidable, and require a command of vocalism that only the greatest singers can offer. It further requires the leadership of an immaginative conductor to bring cohesion to "Forza's" somewhat sprawling score. This recording towers over the others in best meeting the aforementioned 'criteria'. Maestro James Levine demonstrates his mastery of the score throughout, creating intimacy in the more personal passages of the opera (no more so than in the moving Convent Scene), contrasted with the bustling energy of scenes in the countryside and battlefield. His conducting has the "sweep" and verve so neccessary to illuminating and energizing the overall (Russian-influenced?) darkness of this turbulent score…
“…Tebaldi proved at the Maggio Musicale at Florence in 1953 under Mitropoulos that Leonora was to be among her most successful roles, and here she confirms the fact in spades with her lustrous, effortlessly shaped and eloquent traversal of the role. By her side she has the incomparable Corelli, singing his first Don Alvaro, and revealing that his brilliant, exciting yet plangent tone is precisely the right instrument to project Alvaro's loves and sorrows. At this stage of his career his thrilling upper register and incisive delivery of the text were at their most potent, as he makes abundantly clear in aria and duet. As his antagonist, Bastianini sings with the kind of Verdian élan seemingly now extinct among his breed. He may not be the most subtle of Verdian baritones, but here his macho approach ideally suits Don Carlo's vengeful imprecations.” (Gramophone Classical Music Guide)