Verdi’s Luisa Miller may be on lower rotation than many of his other works, but the casting of three operatic superstars presents the work in its very best light.
Over ten years since its last appearance at Metropolitan Opera, the return of Luisa Miller gives legendary singer Placido Domingo the 149th role of his storied career. His new phase as a baritone now well established, Domingo’s unmatched stage experience brings a necessary level of gravitas to the romantic story. At at a point where a lesser performer would simply rely on their celebrity, Domingo’s immersion in the role and conviction to the character is a pleasure to watch. And after more than 60 years onto stage, the quality of Domingo’s singing remains an inspirational lesson in vocal preservation.
Technically an update on the original, Elijah Moshinsky’s 2001 production comes across as completely traditional. Time and place are moved to rural England around the year of the opera’s premiere. The respectful update allows the plot’s sense of honour and depth of intrigue to remain appropriate, but adds little, if anything, to the overall storytelling.
Produced on the grand scale that is a specialty of the Met, the staging features realistic, sturdily constructed sets that are far more visually satisfying than the sparse staging of high concept productions. That said, the blacks and browns of Santo Loquasto’s designer drab look favour authenticity over attractive visual appeal.
Donald Palumbo’s excellent preparation of the Metropolitan Opera Chorus is immediately evident in the opening scene. As the townsfolk gather to wake dear Luisa on her birthday, the sound of a massed chorus singing uniformly in pianissimo is most striking.
In the title role, Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva enjoys nothing short of an absolute triumph. Pouring forth with a delectably golden lustre, Yoncheva’s tireless vocals Showing the range of expression required for many a Verdi heroine, Yoncheva contrasts the sheer joy of Luisa’s unblemished love for Rodolfo (known initially to her as the stranger Carlo) with the vulnerability tension and eventual despair the young woman experiences as she is manipulated and, ultimately tragically murdered.
Polish tenor Piotr Beczala retains his boyish zeal, singing in superb voice as the romantic lead, Rodolfo. Beczala’s open face clearly expresses the character’s joy, passion, confusion and heartbreak. In an evening of vocal highlights, Beczala’s rendition of “Quando le sere al placido” absolutely brings down the house, such is Beczala’s combination of ringing musicality and impassioned expression. Subsequent cabaletta “L’ara o l’avello apprestami” brings act two to a stirring conclusion.
Focus falls squarely upon the trio of stars in act three as Verdi experiments with the form of the duet by writing extended duet scenes that serve the storytelling. In roles that perfectly exemplarise Verdi’s fascination with fathers and daughters, Domingo and Yoncheva bring heart rending tenderness to “La figlia, vedi, pentita” as Miller convinces his daughter not to take her own life. The colour of their voices complementing each other perfectly, Beczala and Yoncheva continue the vocal beauty with “Ah piangi; il tuo dolore,” as Luisa makes a deathbed confession to the lie she was forced to tell.
Ukrainian bass Dmitry Belosselskiy conveys the unflinching villainy of the odious Wurm, using his imposing presence and unwavering bass voice to strong effect.
Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov brings. Smiling malevolence to controlling patriarch Count Walter, joining Belosselskiy in rare bass-bass duet “L’alto retaggio non ho bramato” as the pair plot to work together to separate the young lovers.
Russian mezzo-soprano Olesya Petrova sings the thankless role of self-serving duchess Federica with voluptuous warmth.
With such strong voices on offer, it is no surprise that the extended a capella sequence of act two quartet “Egli delira,” sung by Yoncheva, Vinogradov, Belosselskiy and Petrova, is so remarkably exquisite.
Maestro Bertrand de Billy leads the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in a stirring performance that brings out the full range of instrumental colour in Verdi’s dramatically intelligent score.
Luisa Miller was reviewed 7.30pm Monday 2 April 2018 at Metropolitan Opera, where it plays select dates until 21 April 2018.
The Luisa Miller playbill can be read online.
Photos: Simon Parris