By Dr. John L. DiGaetani
It was impossible for Giuseppe Verdi to write dull music. We see this in the current Met revival of his “Luisa Miller.” Though this is not one of his greatest operas, it is always musically engaging and dramatically interesting. Based on “Kabale und Liebe,” a play by Friedrich Schiller, it is clearly Marxist, presenting wealthy aristocrats as always exploiting poor people and even killing family members to get a larger share of their inheritance. The villain here is even named Wurm! The story involves a Romeo and Juliet situation, with young lovers destroyed by family feuds and class conflicts.
Placido Domingo played the father of the poor Miller family and he still sounds amazingly good as a baritone, though he really sounds more like a tenor who has lost his high notes. He does not sound like he did twenty years ago, but for a singer in his 70’s, he sounded wonderful—always audible and mellifluous. Piotr Beczala, who sang the role of Rodolfo, has become one of the great tenors of our time, singing accurately and with a beautiful tone. He was always in character.
The Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva was his match as Luisa Miller, desperately in love, but trapped in a family feud. Her large soprano voice managed this role very well. Additionally, she was a wonderful Tosca in the Met’s new production of the opera that premiered a few months ago. French conductor Bertrand de Billy emphasized the many wonderful melodies and arias in this score. He ably controlled and shaped this performance.
The two villains in the opera were well-sung and dramatized by Alexander Vinogradov (Count Walter) and Dmitry Belosselskiy (Wurm). These two basso singers managed to become convincing as the two men who sought to destroy the two young lovers. The opera’s tragic ending was moving, despite Elijah Moshinsky’s gray, dreary production set in Dickensian England.
The Met also revived Zeffirelli’s gorgeous production of “Turandot,” Puccini’s final opera. The Met audience continues to applaud this impressive and colorful production, though it is now about thirty years old. Martina Serafin was dramatic and forceful in the title role, hitting all of the very high notes and personifying the fatal heroine, who changes into a loving princess by the end of the opera.
Marcelo Alvarez disappointed, however, as Prince Calaf. This dramatic role clearly exhausted the tenor and by the end of the opera his famous aria “Nessun dorma” sounded tired, rather than glorious and victorious.
The Chinese soprano Guanqun Yu sang the part of Liu, the loving foil of the fatal title character. She has beautiful tone and genuine passion, which helped to make this an exciting revival of Puccini’s final opera. Miss Yu movingly conveyed the hopeless love of Liu for Calaf, who is immediately infatuated with the haughty Turandot.
Ronald Naldi was impressive as Emperor Altoum, who is disgusted by his bloodthirsty daughter, but unable to stop her. Patrick Carfizzi also succeeded as the haughty Mandarin. Marco Armiliato conducted this score successfully, emphasizing its atonal beauties and exotic Orientalism.
This opera always makes me a sad, despite its happy conclusion. With its premiere at la Scala in 1926, the glorious tradition of Italian opera composition ended. From its inception in 17th century Venice, the operas, its composers, singers and set designers dominated this art form. This domination ended with the death of Puccini in 1924 and the premiere of his final opera, Turandot in 1926. Since then, no major composer of Italian opera has appeared to add to the glorious tradition of Monteverdi, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini.