Callas in La forza del destino III

Donna Leonora’s cavatina from La forza del destino, “Me pellegrina ed orfana,” has an interesting history. There is evidence suggesting that it derives to some extent from the Re Lear opera that Verdi sketched but never completed.

Francesco Maria Piave’s Forza verses hew closely to an aria for Cordelia written by Antonio Somma for Lear, with some differences in meter.

It is tantalizing (and, alas, probably misleading) to think that “Me pellegrina” allows us to hear traces of Verdi’s Re Lear—surely opera’s most painful might-have-been. Whatever its ultimate source, the aria is moody and difficult, made even more challenging by its placement only moments after the curtain rises on Forza.

Maria Callas plumbed the musical and dramatic depths of “Me pellegrina” in her 1954 recording of Forza, capturing Donna Leonora’s tragic stature along with her youth and vulnerability.

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