AN EVENING TO TREASURE – WITH SOME “DENTS”

Luisa Miller

Plácido Domingo as Miller, Sonya Yoncheva as Luisa and Piotr Beczała as Rodolfo. (Photo: Chris Lee / Met Opera)

Luisa Miller, opera by Giuseppe Verdi on a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano, based on the play Kabale und Liebe by Friedrich von Schiller. First performed at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on 8 December 1849. Performance at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, on 9 April 2018.

Luisa Miller: Sonya Yoncheva
Rodolfo: Piotr Beczala
Miller: Plácido Domingo
Wurm: Dmitry Belosselskiy
Walter: Alexander Vinogradov
Federica: Olesya Petrova

Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra
Conductor: Bertrand de Billy
Director: Elijah Moshinsky

Music:
Staging:

It has been a while, since the MET offered Verdi’s seldom performed Luisa Miller, based on Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe. It is – no doubt – not a downright masterpiece with “superhits“ in opera.

However, the MET decided to revive it. They took Elijah Moshinsky’s beautifully realistic set from some decades ago, and then – for some unknown and apparently weird reasons – decided to let a costume designer (Santo Loquasto; revival stage designer: Gregory Keller) “update” the costumes.  So, the background of the Tyrolean Alps and a 17th century village, as created by Moshinsky, was combined with costumes, uniforms, and weapons from the late 19th century England. Whoever had that idea … it was not the brightest. It did not add anything to the drama, it was just a bit confusing for those familiar with the plot.

Anyway, at least it was not “updated” to WWII, there were no washing machines, no apes, no astronauts. It was still lovely to watch all the “ancient” costumes, interiors, and buildings. If anyone has an explanation why the singers had to run up and down dozens of stairs in Count Walter’s room – please, let me know.

But on to the main reasons for attending an opera – the singers. And this cast was really a reason.
The performance reviewed was the fourth of this cast’s run. There were cameras present all over the house, maybe as a “training” or backup for the upcoming “MET, live on HD” which will be in cinemas worldwide on April 14th. However, it seemed to make parts of the cast nervous. They made some mistakes throughout the performance. A wrong note here, a wrong tempo there, some forgotten words, some confusing moves. There was nothing major, but the sum of it disturbed the otherwise overall good impression.

Sonya Yoncheva has everything needed for Luisa: a voice big enough to fill the MET, versatile enough to reach the high as well as the lower notes, and natural beauty. Her portraying of the suffering girl was most impressive; her voice was not in all stages, though.

Sometimes getting to the high notes, it sounded “pushed”, and strained, and thus the high notes were at the edge of becoming shrill. On the other hand, there were moments, especially sung in low voice, when the voice sounded at the edge of becoming angelic.

Piotr Beczala, her Rodolfo, showed his beautiful, “bronze-metallic” timbre, a powerful voice, and strong high notes after some uncertainties. However, for my taste, he appeared a bit tame and “too nice” for a passionate, furious lover who feels betrayed by his bride and is therefore ready to kill her.

Plácido Domingo, baritenor, made his debut in the role of Miller. It’s the 149th role for the 77 years old singer, unique in opera history. His is not a downright Verdi baritone, but that does not matter at all. His portrayal of the loving father who loses his daughter due to intrigues and betrayal is ever so heart-wrenching. Full of deep understanding for Verdian lines, and human feelings, and suffering at the same time, it becomes a lesson of what total commitment and dedication to opera mean. No wonder that the MET’s audience showered him with the longest and loudest applause of all singers.

Dmitry Belosselskiy as Wurm showed a strong, heavy, and beautiful bass voice. He also honestly tried to portray the wicked character he was supposed to be, but he seemed to be “too nice to be that evil” as well. Count Walter was sung by Russian Alexander Vinogradov. And although his role is not the biggest one, he made the most of it. He impressed with his versatile, dark and yet shiningly-burning bass, convincing Verdian style, and his acting abilities. Even though he is quite young, he credibly played (probably coeval) Rodolfo’s father. Also very well sung was the part of Federica. Olesya Petrova has a creamy, warm mezzo voice which is also secure on the top notes.

Bertrand de Billy’s conducting seemed strange to me, somehow uninspired, maybe best described as “frumpy and prissy”, and too slow at certain points. I also discerned some dissonances between instruments and singers.

To sum it up: It was a pretty good performance with an impressive cast, but there were some awkward moments. I hope the next performance of this run I will be going to see, will do better. Then it could become a moment of glory for all.

Gabi Eder (Published on 10/4/2018)

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