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Verdi, Luisa Miller: Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana. Coro de la Generalitat Valenciana, Conductor Lorin Maazel. Palau de les Arts Valencia, 13.11.2008 (JMI)

Production from Teatro Mássimo de Palermo

Director: Lamberto Puggelli
Sets and Costumes: Luisa Spinatelli
Lighting: Bruno Ciulli


Luisa Miller: Alexia Voulgaridou, soprano
Rodolfo: Marcelo Álvarez, tenor
Miller: Andrzej Dobber, baritone
Count Walter: Orlin Anastassov, bass
Duchess Federica: María José Montiel, mezzo soprano
Wurm: Rafal Siwek, bass

I have written more than once that Luisa Miller is one of my favourite Verdi operas and that I consider it to be the real starting point of music drama, some 4 years before the composition of RigolettoThirty years ago,  Luisa Miller was a rarity, hardly performed in any important opera houses and just as an example, 118 years went by before Luisa Miller was performed in Madrid only three years ago. Fortunately, the situation has changed so much that today Luisa Miller is one of the most performed Verdi operas in the world. In Spain it has been offered during the last three years by Madrid's Teatro Real and  Barcelona's Liceu, and now Valencia is added to the list, probably because this is one of Lorin Maazel’s favourite operas too. Logically, Bilbao will follow soon within its Tutto Verdi project.

Valencia's Palau de les Arts had to face an important challenge when programming this opera, especially considering the circumstances that  surrounded it. Just three days before its premiere, the last performance of Parsifal was taking place in the theatre, which meant running both productions at once - something which had not happened before in Valencia. It also meant that Lorin Maazel and the Orchestra had to rehearse Luisa Miller in between performances of Parsifal. Any aficionado will realize how difficult working at the same time with two such different operas must be. Few houses are able to do this, and I must say that Valencia solved the problems involved very well.

The choice of the production probably had to do with this situation, since it has no greater merits other than its stage simplicity. Lamberto Puggelli transfers the action from the Tyrol of the libretto to the Netherlands of Rembrandt and Vermeer. The stage is a kind of dolls' house with the small rooms shown in Flemish paintings. The costumes are also a copy of these paintings, particularly in the case of Luisa, who seems dressed by Vermeer and whilst it is clear that Puggelli loves 17th century Flemish painters, something similar occurred in Pierluigi Pizzi’s Il Trovatore, inspired by Velazquez. The problem is that movement is rather constricted in these small sets, and in order to try to solve it, Puggelli makes use of doubles in other spaces within the dolls' house, which does not always work. The duet in the first act between Rodolfo and Luisa is sung with each one embracing the double of the other, both couples acting on different levels, which is not  dramatically very convincing. As a touch of “originality” Puggelli also offers us a double  of Luisa during the Aria “Tu puniscimi”, in which she opens her blouse to show her generous breasts -  I do not know which painting was Puggelli's nspiration here.Otherwise, the stage direction is more or less pure routine.

It cannot be easy to conduct Parsifal and to prepare Luisa Miller at the same time, and I was  curious to see how Lorin Maazel and the Orchestra would cope. Mr. Maazel offered a bright reading of the score, after too noisy an overture. Musically, things began to fly high from the scene with Duchess Federica onwards and they never came down from the heights, except for some very short moments. Maazel knows this opera perfectly and he seems to be very comfortable with it;  the Orchestra was again in top form. Let us hope that the fact that Mr. Maazel is not going to continue in Valencia does not have too many negative consequences on the orchestra, although it is more than worrying. The chorus was more comfortable than it had been in Parsifal a couple of weeks ago, which is not too hard to understand.

Luisa Miller demands two exceptional singers for the roles of Rodolfo and Luisa herself and in Valencia we had them. Marcelo Alvarez was an excellent Rodolfo. I cannot think of anyone who is better in the role than he. Throughout the years I have had the opportunity to see the most famous tenors in this role, and Marcelo Alvarez would not get the silver medal in any contest with them. Few characters suit him better than Rodolfo. It is a true gift to listen to such a beautiful voice and such a good interpreter. This is a luxury in any theatre and a great pleasure for any opera lover. Fantastic!

Alexia Voulgaridou is a  soprano very familiar to Valencia audiences, but I do not understand why. Her ability to meet the demands of  Luisa is more  than debatable, since the role requires a belcanto soprano in the first act, able to show good agility, whereas the second part is more dramatic. Voulgaridou was not up to the demands in the first part, short of breath control and coloratura. Later on she was more suited to the role with an attractive middle register, but producing  some shouted high notes here and there and some dubious pitch more than once. The difference between Voulgaridou here and Krassimira Stoyanova in  Liceu’s Luisa Miller was marked.

Carlos Alvarez continues cancelling his performances due to health problems. On this occasion he was replaced by Andrzej Dobber as Miller and this was a good replacement, considering the shortage of Verdi baritones nowadays. His is not the voice that the part requires, but he is an honest and good singer. He had problems in the first act, improving later and finishing at a good level.

Another familiar singer in Valencia is Bulgarian bass Orlin Anastassov, who played Count Walter. This young singer continues to disappoint me whenever I see him on stage because although there is no doubt that he has a very beautiful voice in the middle range and that he is a remarkable singer, his voice projection is getting worse, particularly in the higher range. A pity.

Duchess Federica was Maria José Montiel, who seems to be  specialising in this character. She gave a good performance, being a convincing interpreter and singing with good taste, although her voice has more quantity  than quality. Rafal Siwek was a very convincing Wurm in all senses while Anastassov was in rather weak voice when singing with him.  There was a full house and a triumph for Marcelo Alvarez and Lorin Maazel, but Puggelli received some booing

José M. Irurzun

Picture : Courtesy of the Palau de les Arts, Valencia

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