Verdi’s 14th opera was brought back to the Met after an absence of 12 years. Elijah Moshinsky’s production with sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto is set in 19th century England rather than 17th century Tyrol. This change made little difference to opera’s effect, though the time and place specified by Verdi makes a little more sense. This great work has strange history of neglect by the Met, which didn’t do it until 1929 – 80 years after its premiere. After six performances over two seasons the opera disappeared for almost a half century. It was brought back in 1968 with a cast that included Montserrat Caballe, Richard Tucker, and Sherrill Milnes. Franco Corelli was initially scheduled for the tenor part, but dropped out for reasons unknown to me. Tucker had one of the greatest triumphs of his career as Rodolfo. The 32 year old Milnes burst forth as a Verdi baritone of the highest quality.
Luisa Miller marks the transition from early to middle Verdi. This transition starts near the beginning of the the 3rd Act. Verdi from here to the opera’s end writes music that inticately follows the story’s emotional content and which departs from the formalism of the bel canto style. Not that there’s anything wrong with the first two acts. They contain brilliant ensembles and arias. Among the latter is one of opera’s greatest tenor arias – ‘Quando le sere al placido’.
This opera is one of a succession of parent child stories that Verdi was drawn to throughout his entire career. This one has two fathers whose children are the plot’s fulcrum.
Today’s performance of Luisa Miller was simply put – magnificent. One could make some quibbles about this or that (and I will), but taken together it was one most successful broadcasts in this HD series’ history. It showed why people still go to the theater to hear music written more than a century ago.
The title role requires a soprano who handles music that is both lyrical and intensely dramatic. Sonya Yoncheva, making her record setting third appearance this season on the HD telecasts, was up to the roles demands. Her vibrato sometimes gets a little wide and pathos is a stretch for her, but she was a convincing pawn in a political game the nature of which she was unaware.
The Polish tenor Piotr Beczala has become a major asset to the Met since his debut in 2006. He has a solid lirico-spinto tenor that he used to great effect as the nervous son of a pretender count. Beczala singing of the great second act aria was well phrased and delivered with ease and a focused and fine line. The only lack was more steel in his tone. The role calls for a spinto tenor like Tucker or his colleague in today’s performance Placido Domingo who sang the role at the Met almost 40 years ago.
The great Domingo, now 77 years old, continues to be opera’s greatest marvel. Since his high notes left more than a decade and a half ago, he’s been masquerading as a baritone. Today’s impersonation was the best I’ve heard him deliver. His voice was steady, ample and easy. He needed no makeup to play the role of Miller, Luisa’s father. He’s an elderly retired soldier who loves his daughter and does nothing to deserve the terrible loss that overtakes him. Domingo is set to observe his 50th anniversary with the Met next season. Tenor baritone, impresario, conductor, competition director – he’s a miracle.
The remaining parts were all well done. The Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov started out as a student of physics, but switched to opera at age 21 when he was discovered to have a fine bass voice. He gave a solid and convincing performance as the grasping count who in effort to enhance his son’s life destroys him. Dmitry Belosselskiy was born in Ukraine, but made his career in Russia. He was the wonderfully named Wurm. A co-conspirator with the count he was appropriately evil though he sounded much better than his part’s wicked character deserves.
Olesya Petrova, another Russian singer, was the spurned Duchess Federica. She sang well and got as much as possible from her relatively small part. The Canadian mezzo, Rihab Chaieb is a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program and was the 2016 winner of the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition. She has a small solo in the last act which showed a fine lyric mezzo of exceptional promise. A singer to watch.
As far as I could tell Betrand de Billy’s conducting was good. The problem was that the gain on the singers’ microphones was turned so high that there were times when it was hard to hear the orchestra. I’ve never before heard an HD telecast with the voice amplified to a level that threatened the 8th cranial nerve. Nevertheless, the performance taken as a whole was brilliant and emotionally moving.
Ultimately, what made this show work so well was the overwhelming genius of its composer. Verdi’s grasp of the human heart is unsurpassed. His like in the theater is only found in Shakespeare. When the performers do as he instructed the result is a unique experience. Don’t keep Luisa Miller on the shelf for very long!
Metropolitan Opera House
April 14, 2018
Giuseppe Verdi–Salvadore Cammarano
Count Walter…………Alexander Vinogradov
Conductor……………Betrand de Billy
Lighting Designer…….Duane Schuler
Stage Director……….Gregory Keller
Video Director……….Matthew Diamond