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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Luisa Miller
Luisa Miller – Marina Rebeka (soprano)
Laura – Corinna Scheurle (mezzo-soprano)
Federica – Judit Kutasi (mezzo-soprano)
Rodolfo – Ivan Magrý (tenor)
Miller – George Petean (baritone)
Count Walter – Marko Mimica (bass-baritone)
Wurm – Ante Jerkunica (bass)
A peasant – Bernhard Schneider (tenor)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
MŘnchner Rundfunkorchester/Ivan Repušić
Rec. live, 22 and 24 September 2017, Prinzregententheater, Munich
BR KLASSIK 900323 [56:19 + 77:23]

Luisa Miller, besides being a dramatically coherent and attractive work in its own right, is also an important transitional work in Verdi’s development as composer. Charles Osborne expresses this very well in his book The Complete Operas of Verdi (Gollancz, 1969): “[It is] marking both the end of Verdi’s first period and the beginning of his second. The change can almost be said to occur between Acts II and III, the first two acts inhabiting the world of Bellini and Donizetti, a world which Verdi leaves with the tender regret of Quando le sere al placido, while Act III is both a real anticipation of the musical style and dramatic atmosphere of La traviata, and a confident assertion of the composer’s by then complete independence from the past. The intimate, domestic tone is new and exciting; equally exciting are the increasing mastery of orchestration and, especially in the last act, the freedom and flexibility of form, the easy confidence of the vocal writing, the quality of the melodic recitative, and the general widening of Verdi’s expressive range of feeling.”

Against this background it’s a pity that Luisa Miller isn’t played more frequently, since in a way it gives the best of two worlds: the flowing, melodious arias and cabalettas of “the galley years” and the dramatic cogency of the mature dramatist. Cammarano’s libretto is also an excellent work, rather freestanding from the source, Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe, and it is certainly engaging, not least since Verdi here wanted to leave the world of Kings and noblemen and turn to ordinary people. In that respect it also points forward to La traviata and even Rigoletto, where we also have a central father-daughter relation. The recording companies have not been too keen to set it down, even though there are a number of sets, from the 1951 Cetra box with Lauri-Volpi as Rodolfo, via the mid-60s RCA issue, starring Anna Moffo, Shirley Verett, Carlo Bergonzi, Cornell MacNeil, Giorgio Tozzi and Ezio Flagello in the role of the evil Wurm, to recordings with Pavarotti and Domingo and several DVDs.

This latest addition to the catalogue was recorded live at two performances in the Prinzregententheater in Munich in late September 2017, but there is nothing that indicates the presence of an audience or stage movements or other sonic disturbances. It is a well-balanced sound picture which registers the many felicities of orchestration, for instance the airy woodwind writing at the opening of Act III. Ivan Repušić, whose recording of Puccini’s La rondine with the same Munich forces I reviewed recently, seems equally at home in Verdi as in late Puccini. He adopts flexible tempos, while basically he is no drawler.

Musically there is a lot to admire here. Rodolfo’s Quando le sere al placido near the end of Act II is the aria most people recognise, but there are plenty of other highlights, the first being Luisa’s Lo vidi e’l primo palpito, followed by a cabaletta, where she is joined by Rodolfo. Miller’s Sacra la scelta Ŕ d’un consorte, also in Act I, is also number for the favourite list, just as Walter’s Il mio sangue, la vita darei. All of these – and most other numbers – are however difficult to find if one wants to hear them separately, since there are no cue points. For Luisa’s aria one has to use the fast-forward button and locate it some six minutes from the start of the track. I believe many listeners would want separate tracks, in particular when the arias are so well sung as here.

The greatest, I would say the most sensational, of the soloists is Marina Rebeka in the title role. Rarely have I heard a more attractive spinto voice so deliciously managed as hers in this testing role. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2011 as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni and I missed it, since I was sick in bed in pneumonia in my hotel room, but it must have been a sensation. Here six years later she is superb in this far from easy role. She is brilliant and has the coloratura required, and technically this is a stunning performance. Just listen to her silvery soprano soaring above the ensemble in the Act I finale. Her second act aria Tu puniscimi, o Signore is also gloriously sung, as is the cabaletta A brami, a brami, o perfido. Straight through the performance she is superb, crowning this with a masterly last act with the duet with her father and the prayer with organ. This is a great triumph for this marvellous Latvian soprano – a lirico spinto in the first division with absolutely marvellous brilliant top notes.

Luisa’s father, impersonated by the Romanian baritone George Petean, whom I heard as a good Germont senior in La traviata in Hamburg a few years ago, has a warm, middle sized baritone voice, suitable to the aged soldier. The big scene with Luisa in the last act finds him at his best with his tender-hearted care for his daughter. Here he challenges most of his competition in rivalling sets.

Ivan Magrý is a lyrical Rodolfo, not quite in the class of Bergonzi and Pavarotti, but a fully believable lover and he sings beautifully in duet with Luisa as well in his set piece Quando le sere al placido in the second act. The bad guys Count Walter and Wurm are well taken by Marko Mimica and Ante Jerkunica – in particular in their duet L’altro retaggio non ho bramato in the second act, one of the best numbers in the whole opera. Judit Kutasi is a good but slightly anonymous Federica, while Corinna Scheurle is a charming Laura.

This recording can’t quite oust my personal favourite recording, Fausto Cleva’s RCA set with Moffo and Bergonzi, but Marina Rebeka is a much more dramatic Luisa and the recording is worth hearing for her contribution alone – and there is so much more to admire. Inveterate Verdians should definitely lend their ears to this latest Luisa Miller, and those contemplating their first recording of this hidden away masterpiece could do much worse than starting here.

G÷ran Forslingi

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