Verdi’s apotheosis to misery and self pity is one of opera’s greatest arias. The recitative which starts the scena is better than most composers’ best arias. The aria itself is sublime. It requires an extraordinary tenor to bring it off. For no reason other than I like it so much here are three performances of it by three of the most celebrated tenors of the mid 20th century – Mario Del Monaco, Giuseppe Di Stefano, and Richard Tucker.
The piece requires a spinto voice. Del Monaco was way beyond a spinto; he was a true dramatic tenor. His performance recorded in New Orleans in 1953 shows that he could sing softly when he wanted; he has been unjustly accused of being incapable of anything less than forte. But there’s no way to deny that loud wasn’t his greatest strength. He was overqualified for anything less than Otello. Del Monaco Forza
Giuseppe Di Stefano had the most beautiful lyric tenor of his era and perhaps of any, but of course he wanted to sing parts beyond his strength. Forza is an opera he should not have attempted, but this recording made in Vienna in 1960 shows the tenor in exceptional voice even though he was several years into the vocal decline that prematurely ended his career; he adds the unique touches and moving phrases that made his singing unlike anyone else’s. He also doesn’t blast his way through the passagio. His tone is focused and doesn’t spread. This may have been his last really good outing. Di Stefano Forza
Richard Tucker, clearly the only American tenor to rank with the greatest international stars, had the ideal voice for Alvaro. Recorded in New York in 1956 this is the gold standard for this aria. The tone is pure and burnished. Tucker’s vocal reserve seems limitless. The delivery is passionate. This is as good as it gets. His continuous presence at the Met for 30 years was enough to make the period a golden age. Tucker Forza
Both the Italian and English texts are below. Alvaro is deep into codependency. He’s in a slough of despair. He’s not happy. But Verdi’s genius elevates the solipsism to great art.
La vita è inferno all’infelice.
Invano morte desio!
Oh, rimembranza! Oh, notte
Ch’ogni ben mi rapisti!
Sarò infelice eternanmente, è scritto.
Della natal sua terra il padre volle
Spezzar l’estranio giogo,
All’ultima dell’Incas la corona
Fu vana impresa.
In un carcere nacqui;
M’educava il deserto;
Sol vivo perchè ignota
È mia regale stirpe!
I miei parenti
Sognaro un trono, e li destò la scure!
Oh, quando fine avran
Le mie sventure!
O tu che seno agli angeli
Salisti bella, incolume
Dalla mortal jattura,
Non iscordar di volgere
Lo sguardo a me tapino,
Che senza nome ed esule,
In odio del destino,
La morte d’incontrar.
Leonora mia, soccorrimi,
Pietà del mio penar!
Pietà di me!
Life is a hell to the unfortunate. In vain
do I long for death. Seville! Leonora!
Oh, memories! Oh, night
that robbed me of all joy!
I shall be unhappy forever – so it is written.
My father wished to shatter the foreign yoke
on his native land, and by uniting himself
with the last of the Incas, thought to assume
the crown. The attempt was in vain!
I was born in prison, educated
in the desert; I live only because my royal birth
is known to none! My parents
dreamed of a throne; the axe awakened them!
Oh, when will my misfortunes end?
Oh, you who have ascended, forever pure,
to the bosom of the angels,
lovely and untouched
by mortal sorrow,
do not forget
to look down on me, unhappy wretch,
who, nameless and exiled,
the prey of fate,
longingly seeks to encounter death,
unfortunate that I am!
Leonora, help me,
have pity on my anguish.
Help me, have pity on me!