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Friday, March 23, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Luisa Miller

Placido Domingo returns (but not as the tenor lead) in Verdi's opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
We're the Millers: Sonya Yoncheva (right) is Luisa and Placido Domingo is her ill-starred father in Verdi's Luisa Miller.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera marketing department is trumpeting that this year's revival of Luisa Miller features soprano Sonya Yoncheva paired with a very familiar name: Placido Domingo. However, those materials neglect to mention that Mr. Domingo is not playing Rodolfo, the handsome young hero in Verdi's Luisa Miller, but rather the role of Luisa's father, a part usually taken by a baritone of the first rank.

What is Luisa Miller?
This is Verdi's fifteenth opera, a setting of the Friedrich Schiller play Kabale und Liebe. With the help of librettist Salvatore Cammarano (who would later pen Il Trovatore) Verdi fashioned the play into a three-act opera that shows the composer at the early height of his considerable powers.

What's the plot of Luisa Miller?
This is is the story of a Tyrolean girl who falls in love with Rodolfo, the son of a local count. However, his father Count Walter wants to marry Luisa off to his servant Wurm (yes, that's the bad guy's name!) The kabale comes when Count Walter has Luisa's old father arrested to force Luisa into Wurm's arms. Everything ends in sadness and death. Because you know, it's Verdi.

What's the music like?
This is Verdi at the very peak of his powers, right before the triple play of Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La Traviata made him the most in-demand Italian opera composer in all of Europe. So the music is superb. Highlights include the tenor aria "Quando le sere al placido, Luisa's "Tu puniscimi, O Signore" and the villainous duets for the two basso baddies, an idea Verdi would use again in Don Carlos.

How's the production?
Those who are weary of the Peter Gelb era of regie productions and flashy Broadway directors will find much to like in this sturdy, somewhat shopworn depiction of life in the Alps. It is from 1991, and then it has only been revived occasionally.

Who's in it?
Placido Domingo, who makes his first Met outing in the role of old Miller, Luisa's doomed father. Sonya Yoncheva and Piotr Beczala are the star-crossed Luisa and Rodolfo. Basses Alexander Vinogradov and Dmitry Belosselskiy are the bad guys: Count Walter and Wurm, respectively. Bertrand de Billy conducts, stepping in for the fired and disgraced James Levine.

Why should I go see it?
It's Verdi. And this opera has not been staged at the Met since 2006. Did we mention that Placido Domingo is in it, continuing his "retirement" tour of Verdi baritone roles?

When does it open?
Luisa Miller opens March 29 and runs for only six performances through April 18. A Met Live in HD transmission is scheduled for April 14.

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets for Luisa Miller are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I buy?
Luisa Miller is not performed often but it is well represented in the catalogue.

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra cond. Thomas Schippers (Sony, 1962)
This set made in the late days of the old Met opera house features Montserrat Caballe in the title role, caught in peak early form, opposite supertenor Richard Tucker. Sherrill Milnes is Old Miller, recorded early in his career.

RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra and Chorus cond. Fausto Cleva (Sony 1965)
A classic recording with cult favorite Anna Moffo and world-class tenor Carlo Bergonzi living it up in the Tyrolean Alps. Shirley Verrett and Cornell MacNeill fill out the cast.

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