Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Luisa Miller - tragic melodrama in three acts (1849)
Count Walter, local landowner – Giorgio Tozzi (bass); Rodolfo, Count Walter’s son – Richard Tucker (tenor); Federica, Duchess of Ostheim and Walter’s niece – Louise Pearl (mezzo); Wurm, Count Walter’s steward – Ezio Flagello (bass); Miller, a retired soldier – Sherrill Milnes (baritone); Luisa, Miller’s daughter – Montserrat Caballé (soprano)
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Thomas Schippers
rec. live, 17 February 1968, The Metropolitan Opera. Mono
SONY CLASSICAL 88691 90994 2 [66:54 + 62:54]
This is yet another in the series of re-mastered issues of Saturday matinee broadcasts from the Met. Its from what now looks like the Met’s heyday. While it stands to reason that not all of them are equally valuable, the standard has been astonishingly high. It serves to remind us what a really top-class cast looks like when drawn from a roster which has talent in depth. Compare that with today’s unseemly scramble by the big houses to nab the one or two singers in the world capable of singing Verdi to the requisite standard. As they are all recorded live in mono sound, their desirability might depend upon the availability of competitive studio recordings in stereo. Certainly, before you buy it, you should be sure that this issue has advantages over the 1975 Decca set made with two of the same principals. Decca sported a singer (Pavarotti) arguably much better suited to the demands of the heroic tenor lead and, by and large, a superior supporting cast. They are recorded in splendid stereo. However, it must be admitted that both the performance and the sound are so good on this Sony set that one almost forgets it is mono.
I am certainly not trying to dissuade anyone from purchasing this. For one thing, good as she is for Decca seven years later, Caballé is decidedly more delicate here in this live performance. She floats her trademark top Bs so seductively whereas in 1975 she goes for power more often. On the other hand, here, live at the Met, some top notes are a little shrill. Milnes is less nuanced than for Peter Maag. Also Maag’s more experienced direction is decidedly more subtle by comparison with Schippers’ energised approach. This was, after all, a transitional and experimental opera for Verdi. It is much gentler and rather pastoral in character, employing prominent woodwind and a cantilena more in the line of Bellini; the music responds to a lighter hand. Luisa Miller was the last of Verdi’s anni de galera operas, ushering in a more mature style with stronger lyrical elements and greater psychological penetration. The father-daughter exchanges beginning Act III are especially touching, foreshadowing Rigoletto, as is the insight and novelty of the a cappella quartet which ends Act II. The latter is here beautifully sung with no sagging of pitch and lovely ensemble in the matching of the voices.
There is no doubt that we have some faintly inappropriate casting with a young, virile-sounding Milnes as Luisa’s father, supposedly “un vecchio debole” (weak old man). Richard Tucker, in the latter years of his career, sounds heroic but decidedly mature for the callow, headstrong lover who rebels against his father’s wishes. This is another reason why the later Decca set is preferable with a fresh-sounding Pavarotti and Milnes’ more seasoned characterisation of Miller. While Tucker’s passion is impressive and clearly appreciated by the audience, all those gulps and sobs can become irritating on repeated listening. Still, he is in good voice and his fans will know what to expect. Flagello is malice incarnate as Wurm, Tozzi resonant as the Count, Louise Pearl adequate as Federica.
There is some great singing here, not least in the superb finale. This is an opera which has never been very popular in comparison with its immediate successors. Sony’s version makes a very good case for the work’s dramatic impact – as long as you can manage without a libretto.
Some great singing here and Sony makes a very good case for the work’s dramatic impact.