Luisa Miller (1979)

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8 October 2011 | TheLittleSongbird
| Ricciarelli, Domingo and Bruson make this Luisa Miller a jewel!
I love opera, and Verdi is my absolute favourite opera composer. The thing is while I have been familiar with La Traviata, Don Carlo, Aida, Rigoletto, Otello and Il Trovatore for years, Luisa Miller was only an opera I discovered earlier this year.

And it is a very worthwhile opera, with great music such as Quando Le Sere Al Placido, Sacre Le Scelta...Ah Fu Guisto, Lo Vidi, E'l Primo Palpito and the final scene, and the characters particularly Count Di Walter and Wurm are good.

The story is very early Verdi, so it is not always plausible and doesn't quite have the heart of Traviata or the complexity of Carlo. In fact of Verdi's early operas(1840s), only Macbeth has a story that I believe in entirely. That said, Luisa Miller's story is interesting for its themes of thwarted love amongst the political and religious conflicts of the time.

Previous to seeing and hearing this Royal Opera House, Covent Garden production from 1979, I saw two productions. One was the 1988 production with June Anderson as Luisa and Paul Plishka as the Count. That was very good, with the portrayals of Wurm, Luisa and the Count particularly worth of note. The other was one I much prefer, the 1979 Met production. All three leads(Scotto, Domingo and Milnes) are wonderful, and the final scene was intensely moving. There are also two recordings particular of note, the 1975 recording(with Caballe, Pavarotti and Milnes) and the 1964 recording(with Moffo, Bergonzi and MacNeil with one of his best performances on disc).

This one is no exception. The audio CD compliments the music superbly with good sound. When viewing the many clips I saw of this production, I found the costumes and sets simple yet very effective. Again the sound was good, and there is some nice video directing. Picture quality though is grainy.

I cannot fault this Luisa Miller musically. The opera's music while not among the maestro's best or even his most mature is wonderful with its demanding combination of dramatic, lyric, high and low passages, and the orchestra are wonderful. Maazel's conducting is solid if lacking subtlety.

Luisa Miller's(1979) performances are wonderful. First and foremost Katia Ricciarelli. Having seen her in Un Ballo in Maschera, Otello and Lucia Di Lammmermoor I regard Ricciarelli as a great singing actress. Her performance in Luisa Miller is no exception. Vocally, she is sublime, no strain or shrillness in her high register at all, and her singing is very musical. Not just in her exquisite pianissimos, but also with her mix of staccatos and legato she articulates her music beautifully.

She couldn't have had a more perfect partner in Placido Domingo, who flawlessly matches her dramatic intensity, musicality and vocal beauty. Domingo shines with his burnished tenor voice and musicianship, and dramatically he's riveting. His Quando Le Sere Al Placido is wonderful, perhaps my favourite singer of that aria.

Renato Bruson is superb as Miller, up there with Milnes and MacNeil as one of the best Millers I've heard or seen. I've always held Bruson in high esteem, since he blew me away as Nabucco and especially as Posa. His acting perfectly shows sincerity, benevolence and sometimes poignancy and menace without making us pity him too much. His long, beautiful lines are evident, likewise with his rich, velvety voice. Sacre Le Scelta has this richness, and he excels also with Ah Fu Gisuto, which is one of Verdi's most difficult cabalettas due to the breathing, making this aria difficulty sound easy.

These three outstanding singing-actors are helped also by three excellent support performances. Yelena Obraztsowa is a lushly-voiced and quite touching Federica, giving credibility to the only character of the opera that I'd consider somewhat thankless. Gwynne Howell is a characteristically rich Count, while Mozart/Rossini specialist Waladimiro Ganzarolli is suitably evil as Wurm.

Staging is fine, never too cluttered or sparse. The final scene especially is truly moving and intense, though I think Ricciarelli could've after Bruson's entrance made it a little more obvious the poison was taking effect. Overall, a jewel, not quite as good as the Met production but better than the 1988 production. 9/10 Bethany Cox

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