Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Fate Conquers All: Verdi's 'La Forza del Destino'

When it comes to theatrical entertainment, people tend to regard the opera house as a fairly benign and predictable venue. But that's really not a safe bet, and perhaps it never has been.

For one thing, opera has never been a bashful form of theater, and the dramas themselves often deal with decidedly dodgy subject matter. There's not just passion, politics and revenge. Any number of great operas also throw in graphic elements such as torture, rape, grisly violence and brutal extortion.

Then there are the productions of those operas. Sometimes they're tame and traditional. But on occasion, opera companies treat venerated dramas in ways that make audiences, literally, screaming mad.

On this edition of World of Opera, with host Lisa Simeone, the featured opera has more than its share of thorny plot elements, and the Vienna State Opera's production is enough to make some in the audience shudder — and even shout.

Giuseppe Verdi's La Forza del DestinoThe Force of Destiny — is an opera that can leave even diehard Verdi lovers shaking their heads. Its story can be as confounding as the music is compelling, with a plot in which a single, unfortunate happenstance drives characters to lifetimes of incomprehensible behavior. There's one character who travels the world, braving war and desolation, in an obsessive quest to murder his own sister.

And the production? Verdi's opera is a predominantly dark-hued tragedy, with a grim, historical setting — but it does have contrasting moments of gaiety and spectacle, provided by a high-spirited gypsy woman and her band of lusty camp followers.

In this Vienna production, she and her cohorts become scantily clad cowgirls toting six shooters, while cavorting amidst depictions of bloody battle and its grisly aftermath. Audiences generally gave the show polite ovations, but certain scenes evoked shouts and boos. In the performance featured on World of Opera, at the end of Act Three, a man in the audience is heard screaming "Assassin of Verdi!," provoking sympathetic shouts mixed with an admonishing murmur.

Still, Verdi's stunning score shines through it all, conducted by Zubin Mehta and starring soprano Nina Stemme, tenor Salvatore Licitra and baritone Carlos Alvarez.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit