Verdi: Luisa Miller / Renzetti, Surian, Franci, Alvarez, Cedolins [blu-ray]
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VERDI Luisa Miller • Donato Renzetti, cond; Fiorenza Cedolins (Luisa); Marcelo Alvarez (Rodolfo); Leo Nucci (Miller); Giorgio Surian (Count Walter); Rafal Siwek (Wurm); Francesca Franci (Federica); Katerina Nikolic (Laura); Teatro Regio Parma O & Ch • C MAJOR 722904 (Blu-ray: 147: 00 + 10:00 bonus) Live: Parma 2007
& Introduction to Luisa Miller
Some commentators say Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Luisa Miller represents a transition in his work from the use of traditional musical forms seen early in his career to the more innovative style of his great middle period works beginning with Rigoletto and continuing with Il Trovatore and La traviata. That very well may be true, but another trend I can attest to is that with this opera Verdi’s music is getting noticeably better. Perhaps it is not consistently better throughout the opera, but certainly notable in the ensemble pieces, the finales of acts I and II and the extended duet which ends the last act. The arias for both tenor and soprano are also well conceived, if not as catchy as “Caro nome” or “La donna è mobile.” Verdi’s Luisa overture is one of the best from his pen until La traviata comes along. All of this fine music unfortunately is a bit wasted on another of Frederich Schiller’s rather dreary romantic tragedies, but the opera has proved popular enough to remain in the repertoire of houses both big and small, particularly on the continent of Europe,
The story is of the love between peasant Luisa and Rodolfo, son of the local count (although Luisa doesn’t know that at first). Their match is opposed by both fathers, who know it means trouble, and by the Count’s principal retainer, Wurm, who wants the girl for himself. Miller père challenges the Count after he insults Luisa, and Miller is thrown in jail. Wurm tells Luisa that in order to free her father she must write a letter denying her love of Rodolfo and saying she is in love with Wurm himself. She does so under duress and the father is freed, but Rodolfo takes the letter seriously amiss. He shows up at the Miller house to confront Luisa, who is honor bound not to explain her actions. Rodolfo, in despair, gives them both poison, so they can expire slowly together while singing a love duet. Rodolfo still has enough strength left to get the Wurm before he dies himself. Oh, and there’s a stray Countess around somewhere that Rodolfo is supposed to marry who gets to sing in a set piece or two.
The Parma production seen here from 2007 is a pretty good one. It is one of the sets in the Tutto Verdi project, and one of the better I have seen in that series. Tutto Verdi aims to record all of Verdi’s operas and his Requiem on high definition Blu-ray disc for release this year to honor the composer’s 200th birthday. Stage Director Denis Krief has done a clever job of providing stylized yet evocative sets of time and place which can be changed quite quickly and easily, sometimes in full view of the audience. The Millers’ humble village domicile, with wooden walls contrasts with a backdrop of geometric shapes meant to represent the Count’s much grander quarters. Video projections of swaying trees mark one or two of the outdoor scenes. Krief also uses the costumes to emphasize the difference between peasants and aristocrats so crucial to the story line. All the denizens of the Count’s estates seem to be wearing plush finery while the peasants are dressed as . . . well, peasants. Stage action is blocked quite naturally and the video direction provides a good account of it. Although a bit stylized, the whole production has a traditional feel which I enjoy.
Unlike some other Verdi operas, this one requires six solid principal singers to be performed really successfully. Here we get five, which is above average for the Tutto Verdi series, at least in the early operas. Only the bass of Giorgio Surian as the Count really disappoints. His heavy vibrato has developed a beat which he doesn’t control, and it disfigures any attempts at lyrical singing, even noticeable in the ensembles. It is refreshing to hear a really first class tenor like Marcelo Alvarez singing here. I have always liked Argentinean Alverez’s voice, he adds a touch of vocal class to any role, and here his dramatic involvement nearly matches his fine singing. Almost the same can be said of Fiorenza Cedolins in the lead soprano role of Luisa. Her voice is just a bit heavy for the lyric agility Verdi asks for in Luisa, but Cedolins still outsings a bevy of other sopranos cast in these early Tutto Verdi productions and her high range is very enjoyable. She can also act, and if she and Alvarez are a bit more than callow youths, they still provide a properly satisfying couple in their duets together. Then we come to 65-year-old Leo Nucci, who has been a staple in several of these C Major sets. Nucci performs quite well here as Miller, and for once he is not asked to sing more than his aging stamina allows. Mezzo Francesca Franci sings the Countess and bass-baritone Rafal Siwek the role of Wurm to round out the principal singers. Both perform well, although Siwek’s vocal tone sounds too similar to the other lower voices in some of the duets and ensembles. Donato Renzetti leads the Parma orchestra members in one of their better outings, and we video viewers actually get to watch them playing during the Overture for a change.
There are several sets of Luisa Miller available on DVD; I have only seen the one from Venice, recorded in 2006. That set features another strong soprano performance by Darina Takova; she rivals Cedolins on this set but only the Count of Alexander Vinogradov tops the group of male leads seen and heard here. The Venice production is also quite traditional, but I like the Parma sets and costumes better. In an earlier review Fanfare colleague Bob Rose recommends the 1979 Met production with Scotto, Domingo, Milnes, and Morris, which I have not seen, but despite the strong cast, that video technology is nearly 35 years old, and this C Major set is in breathtaking Blu-ray video and high definition sound. It is better than satisfactory, it is quite good, and I recommend it.
FANFARE: Bill White
Catalog Number: 722904
Label: C Major
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Donato Renzetti
Orchestra/Ensemble: Parma Teatro Regio Chorus, Parma Teatro Regio Orchestra
Performer: Fiorenza Cedolins, Francesca Franci, Giorgio Surian, Katarina Nikolic, Leo Nucci, Marcelo Alvarez, Rafal Siwek