By Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note this can be streamed from www.metopera.org.
Saturday, May 2
Verdi’s Luisa Miller ~ 2Hrs and 37Mins
Starring Sonya Yoncheva, Piotr Beczała, and Plácido Domingo, conducted by Bertrand de Billy. From April 14, 2018.
Luisa Miller is an opera from Verdi’s middle period (he was only 36!) and so it still incorporates some the youthful vitality that made him an early international success, but it also includes some of the dramaturgical discipline and sophistication of his later works. Here, soprano Sonya Yoncheva takes on the title role. As her father, Miller, sometimes tenor Plácido Domingo adds another baritone role to his later repertoire. Tenor Piotr Beczała stars as our love-interest, Rodolfo, Alexander Vinogradov as Count Walter, and Dmitry Belosselskiy as the evil Wurm. Bertrand de Billy conducts.
The opera was originally set during the early 17th century in the Tyrolean Alps (now part of Austria), which reflected the setting of the drama’s source story. The Met’s current production updates the setting to rural England at the time of the work’s composition (around 1849).
The story centers on the deep bond between a father and his daughter as they are victimized by a hostile world they cannot control. It is an opera very much like its title character—one that has a multitude of genuine virtues and eschews superficial flashiness. In addition to Verdi’s signature soprano and tenor arias, watch for the rare duet for two basses in Act II which also reflects the preponderance of lower voices throughout the score – the dark voices are set against the high tessitura of Luisa’s soprano which thus takes on an additional feel of lightness and purity amidst darkness.
In a nutshell, the first act is sub-titled “Love” and it is on Luisa’s birthday. She has fallen for a young man, “Carlo” she met in the village and is looking for him to arrive. Her father, Miller, is worried because the man is a stranger. Nevertheless, “Carlo” joins the party and the happy couple sing a wonderful duet. As the villagers enter the church for morning service, Miller is approached by Wurm, Count Walter’s steward. Wurm is also in love with Luisa and determined to stop at nothing to get her. Miller tells him that he will never give his daughter’s hand against her will (Sacra la scelta è d’un consorte / “The choice of a husband is sacred”). Annoyed, Wurm tells him that “Carlo” is actually Rodolfo, Count Walter’s son who is toying with young village maidens.
To further his cause, Wurm then informs the Count about his son’s dalliance, and Rodolfo is summoned to the Count’s study. He is told that he must give up his youthful fancies and marry Walter’s niece, Federica, the Duchess of Ostheim. Having been friends with her since childhood, and hoping for her understanding, Rodolfo confesses to her that he is in love with another woman. Unfortunately, the Duchess indeed loves Rodolfo and is not willing to be sympathetic or to break off their engagement.
Back in the village, Miller is telling his daughter exactly who her lover is, when Rodolfo himself enters, admits his deception and swears to them that Luisa is his only love and will be his bride. Unhappily, the Count has followed him and barges in with his armed men, confronting his son and insulting Luisa. Miller, fearing for Luisa, draws his sword to protect her and the Count orders them both arrested. Rodolfo can secure their release only by privately threatening his father with the fact that he has discovered the Count and Wurm’s secret and will reveal how they murdered the previous Count in order to steal his title.
As the second act – subtitled “Intrigue” – begins, villagers come to tell Luisa that they have seen Miller dragged away in chains. Wurm arrives, confirming that Miller will be executed unless Luisa writes a letter to the Count declaring her love for Wurm and confessing to seducing Rodolfo for his wealth. Her impassioned “Tu puniscimi, O Signore,” filled with pianissimo high Cs, is a perfect example of her music expressing the luminescence of her character. She resists as long as she can, but in the end is forced to write the letter to save her father, now wishing only for death.
Wurm and the Count, of course, see to it that Rodolfo sees the letter – passionate melodies fill this score, but nowhere more than in Rudolfo’s anguished aria “Quando le sere al placido.” As he challenges Wurm to a duel, Wurm fires his pistol into air to avoid the confrontation and call for help. Walter rushes in and convinces his distraught son that the better revenge would be to marry Frederica.
When I tell you that act three is sub-titled “Poison,” you will probably know all you need to at this point. The music is tragically beautiful as we head towards the inevitable soprano death. To see just who poisons whom, who lives, who dies and who is left to repent – watch this moving work …. It is Verdi at his mid-career best.
1. Piotr Beczała, Sonya Yoncheva and Plácido Domingo in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… Metropolitan Opera.
2. Sonya Yoncheva as Luisa, Plácido Domingo as Miller and Piotr Beczała as Rodolfo in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… Metropolitan Opera.
3. Olesya Petrova as Federica in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” at the Met. Credit: Chris Lee / Met Opera
4. Piotr Beczala as Rodolfo and Sonya Yoncheva as Luisa in “Luisa Miller” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
5. Plácido Domingo, the tenor-turned-baritone, as Miller and Sonya Yoncheva as the title character in “Luisa Miller” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.