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Orchestration: piccolo, flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, 2 harps, and strings. First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: July 21, 1942, Pietro Cimini conducting.

Giuseppe Verdi’s creative life, so filled with successes – nearly 30 operas, many of which are still in the repertoire – was not free of angst. La forza del destino is a case in point. After the frustrations of launching his opera Un ballo in maschera in 1859, the composer, exhausted, turned his back on the productivity that had for years consumed him. But when a commission arrived from Russia for an opera for the Imperial Theatre at St. Petersburg, the composer, smelling the blood of the violent Forza story, signed a contract and set off on his task with characteristic zeal. The opera was presented in St. Petersburg in November of 1862, and while it was not an unqualified success, performances in the world’s musical capitals followed. Verdi, however, not entirely satisfied, burned oil many midnights in making revisions of the work. This accomplished, and with the Piave libretto altered by Ghislanzoni (later to collaborate with him on Aida), a new Forza had its first La Scala production in 1869.

The intensity of Verdi’s melodramatics in La forza del destino is at least as apparent in the opera’s seething orchestral introduction as in the body of the work itself. The six opening brass exclamations create a heavy atmosphere of foreboding, and the agitated theme that follows fully enunciates the doom and gloom they portend. This motif, associated with the tragic destiny of the principals, dominates the Overture either as the main material or as a grim undercurrent to melodies related to the opera’s characters. This latter treatment, when the “destiny” motif casts its dark shadow on both the soaring and the gentle lyric themes is, if not subtle, still unfailingly effective and stimulating, so theatrical is Verdi even in his orchestral operatics.

Orrin Howard, who annotated Los Angeles Philharmonic programs for more than 20 years while serving as Director of Publications and Archives, continues to contribute regularly to the Philharmonic program book.