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 inescapable destiny somehow relieves us of the responsibility to understand and confront 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 strictly 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.
Naturally, there are also plenty of operas that dwell on fate, though few do it so dramatically as 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 Macbeth and Rigoletto.
As for the story itself, it's surely appropriate for an operatic exploration of fate: Like so many real life events that are attributed to fate, the goings on in the opera are hard to explain in any other way. The result is a drama that sometimes leaves even diehard Verdi lovers shaking their head. The story can be as confounding as the music is compelling, with a plot in which a single, unfortunate happenstance drives characters to lifetimes of enigmatic behavior. There's one character who travels the world, braving war and desolation, in an obsessive quest to murder his own sister.
Still, like fate itself, the power of Verdi's score for the opera is undeniable. The music transforms a thorny 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 by the Paris National Opera. The stars are soprano Violeta Urmana as Leonora, tenor Marcello Giordani as her beloved Alvaro and baritone Ludovic Tézier as Carlo, who for a moment is Alvaro's ally, but soon becomes his most deadly enemy. The performance, from the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, is led by conductor Renato Palumbo.