One of opera’s most moving and beautiful tenor arias occurs near the end of the second act of Verdi’s Luisa Miller. The aria is a test for any tenor as it requires a powerful spinto for its explosive introduction followed by an aria which is sensitive, lyrical, and has a classical beauty. The words followed by an English translation are at the end of this piece.

I’ll start with the two most recent singers to perform Rodolfo, the tenor lead, at the Met. Marcelo Álvarez sang the role in the Met’s 2006 staging. He’s clearly overmatched by the number. He lacks both the vocal weight and line needed to successfully navigate ‘Quando le sere’. Alvarez Quando le sere al placido

The tenor in the Met’s current run of Luisa Miller is Piotr Beczala. His tone is steadier than Alvarez’s but still does not have the vocal firmness need to fully realize the number. Beczala Quando le sere al placido

Going back to the Met’s 1979 production brings us to Placido Domingo at his peak. His rendition of the aria has just about everything one could want. Domingo Quando le sere al placido

The Met’s 1968 new production of the opera featured Richard Tucker. He has the vocal heft, steady tone, and bright sound needed for this aria. He interpolates a high note at the end of the aria unlike any I’ve ever heard from another tenor including Tucker himself on his other recordings of the aria. Tucker Quando le sere al placido

The Met’s first (1929) Rodolfo was Giacomo Lauri-Volpi. This recording made in performance does not show the tenor at his best. It’s throaty and his intonation is unsecure. Lauri-Volpi Quando le sere al placido

Now some singers who never performed this opera in New York. Aureliano Pertile was known for his rough voice and smooth singing. His version is both virile and refined. He would have been splendid in a staged performance of this opera. Pertile quando le sere al placido

Jonas Kaufmann is another singer made from a mold similar to that from which Pertile sprang. His singing of the aria is refined, so much so that it’s almost precious. Kaufmann Quando le sere al placido

The Soviet tenor Sergei Lemeshev sings the aria in Russian. As far as I can tell, he never performed the entire opera. His bright and focused sound along with his exceptional technique yields an interpretation which is both distinctive and successful. Lemeshev Quando le sere al placido

Franco Corelli having passed on his chance to sing Rodolfo at the Met, never sang it anywhere else. This studio recording indicates that he would have been a superb Rodolfo. Corelli Quando le sere al placido

Finally, Mario Del Monaco. This recording of the aria was made in performance. Finesse is not a requirement when you have a vocal cannon the size of Del Monaco’s. There hasn’t been a dramatic tenor of his caliber since he departed the operatic scene. Del Monaco Quando le sere al placido

Every tenor worth his encores wants to sing this aria. But only the really good ones can bring it off.

Oh! fede negar potessi agl’occhi miei!
Se cielo a terra, se mortali ad angeli
attestarmi volesser ch’ella non
mentite! io responder dovrei, tutti mentite.
Son cifre sue!
Tanta perfidia! Un’alma sì nera!
Si mendace! Ben la conobbe il padre!
Ma dunque i giuri, le speranze la gioja,
le lagrime, l’affano?
Tutto è menzogna, tradimento inganno!

Quando le sere al placido
chiaror d’un ciel stellato
meco figgea nell’etere
lo sguardo innamorato,
e questa mano stringermi
dalla sua man sentia…
e questa mano stringermi
dalla sua man sentia…

Ah! Ah! Ah! mi tradia!
Ah! mi tradia!
Allor, ch’io muto, estatico
da’ labbri suoi pendea,
ed ella in suono angelico,
“amo, amo te sol” dicea,
tal che sembr
aprirsi all’alma mia!
In suono angelico,
“amo te sol” dicea.

Ah! Ah! Ah! mi tradia!
Ah! mi tradia!
Ah! mi tradia!
Mi tradia!
In suono angelico,
“T’amo” dicea.
Ah! mi tradia!
Mi tradia!

Oh! I wish I could deny my own eyes!
If heaven and earth, if mortals and angels
Were to swear to me that she is not guilty…
Lies! I should answer,
All lies…this is her hand!
So much treachery! A black soul!
A liar! Well my father knew her!
But all the promises, the hopes, the joy,
the tears, the anguish?
Everything is a lie, betrayal, deception!

When in the evenings in the calm
Pale light of a starry sky
She gazed with me into the heavens
With a look of love,
And I felt this hand pressed
By her hand…

Ah! She betrayed me!
I was mute, ecstatic,
Hanging from her lips.
When she said in angelic tones
‘I love only you’,
It seemed like the world
Opened to my soul!