Who is “Luisa Miller”? – The protagonist of Giuseppe Verdi’s fifteenth opera of the same name. Verdi buffs are familiar with this opera because it marks the switch from Verdi’s early works to his middle works and is the precursor of La Traviata as well as containing the seeds of Verdi’s later works. Lyric Opera of Chicago is performing Luisa Miller for the first time in more than three decades and only through October 31st.
Sunday afternoon, October 20, 2019, began with the pre-opera talk which I always enjoy. Presented by Jesse Rosenberg of Northwestern University, it highlighted the story of the opera and the arias that were especially beautiful. In addition, Enrique Mazzola, Lyric’s music director designate, who is new to this role, greeted and welcomed the attendees. He shared that Luisa Miller marks the first installment of Lyric’s Early Verdi Series, to be presented over the coming years and which he will be conducting. Enrique Mazzola, is a lauded expert in conducting early Verdi, as well as bel canto and French opera.
The outstanding international cast of acclaimed Verdian artists are featured in Luisa Miller. Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova is sweet, vulnerable Luisa, who loves and is loved by Rodolfo (Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja), the son of ruthless, unethical nobleman Count Walter (American bass-baritone Christian Van Horn/Ryan Opera Center alumnus) whom Luisa’s own father Miller (American baritone Quinn Kelsey/Ryan Opera Center alumnus) loathes. To keep the lovers apart, Walter employs the help of his retainer Wurm (American bass Soloman Howard/Lyric debut), who wants to marry Luisa himself. An arranged marriage between Rodolfo and Duchess Federica (Russian mezzo-soprano Alisa Kolosova) further complicates Luisa and Rodolfo’s desperate situation.
The production of Luisa Miller is directed by Francesca Zambello, with open, evocative set designs by Michael Yeargan, traditional-period costume designs by Dunya Ramicova, and dramatic lighting design by Mark McCullough. Lyric’s chorus master is Michael Black, and August Tye is the choreographer for this presentation.
The story of Luisa Miller has many twists and turns. The first act moves slowly, setting the scene for the more exciting two acts to follow. The sets, costumes and staging work together seamlessly to create beauty and drama. Class differences are marked by the clothing of the villagers and the red velvet of the royals. The unusual use of lighting to create shadows that foreshadow doom (?) was powerful and creative.
Luisa Miller is about class differences. It is set in the mid-19th century in Tyrol. In act one, we meet Luisa as she is being awakened and invited to celebrate her birthday with the people of the village. She has recently met and fallen in love with Carlo, a young man she met in the village. He is part of her celebration and she introduces him to her father (Miller). Her father fears this match is not a good one and of course, he is right. Carlo is in actuality, Rodolfo, the son of the local lord, Count Walter. Count Walter’s retainer, Wurm, is also enamored with Louisa and uses underhanded tactics in an attempt to win her.
Wurm tells Luisa’s father about Rodolfo and he tells the Count about Luisa. The count wants Rodolfo to marry Duchess Ferderica to whom he was betrothed. But, Rodolfo is not in agreement. As Rodolfo is assuring Luisa that she is the one he cares about, his father arrives at the Miller’s home and is about to arrest both Luisa and her father when Rodolfo threatens to reveal the secret that brought Count Walter to his position.
In Act two and three, Miller is arrested for defending his daughter when she is accused of entrapping Rodolfo, and Wurm gives Luisa the chance to free her father if she writes a letter saying she never loved Carlo and only wanted his money. Of course, when Rodolfo receives the letter, he is beyond devastated. Ultimately, Miller is released and Luisa agrees to leave the village and travel with him. This is not to be and the ending, as you can imagine, is not a happy one.
As to the music, it becomes more intense, romantic, and emotional as the story progresses. The arias toward the end become more and more beautiful, solos, duets, trios along with the beautiful orchestral music – until it ends. The huge chorus is very important throughout. The voices were beautiful and lent depth and power to the story.
The performance that I saw was a unique experience for me. American soprano Toni Marie Palmertree sang the title role for the entire performance, replacing Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, who was ill. I thoroughly enjoyed her voice and her acting, finding her very convincing.
American tenor Jonathan Burton portrayed Rodolfo for the second part of the performance, after intermission, replacing Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, who had sung the first act with an announcement that he was suffering from a cold. He was unable to continue for the second portion of the performance.
The audience welcomed Burton who moved into the part easily with a wonderful voice and convincing character. This being his Lyric debut, the audience was very appreciative.
Luisa’s happiness was very short lived. As tragedy increased the arias included a duet by two baritones, and exquisite father – daughter duet and an ending scene that was poignant and beautiful.
Ms. Stoyanova and Mr. Calleja are expected to return for the remaining performances of Luisa Miller.
Remaining performance dates for Luisa Miller are October 25, 28, and 31. Performance times vary.
For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to the Lyric Opera website Tickets start at $39.
Estimated running time is 2 hours 50 minutes, including one 30-minute intermission.
Luisa Miller is performed in Italian with projected English translations.