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SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL OPERA  REVIEW
 

Verdi,  Luisa Miller: Soloists, Orquestra Simfònica y Coro del Gran Teatro del Liceu Conductor: Maurizio Benini, Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona 19.6.2008 (JMI)

Production: Opera National de Paris
Direction: Gilbert Deflo
Sets and Costumes: William Orlandi
Lighting: Joël Hourbeigt

Cast:

Luisa Miller: Krassimira Stoyanova, soprano
Rodolfo: Aquiles Machado, tenor
Miller: Roberto Frontali, baritone
Count Walter: Giacomo Prestia, bass
Federica: Irina Mishura, mezzo
Wurm: Samuel Ramey, bass


Luisa Miller has been for many years one of Verdi’s more unjustly forgotten operas, although lately it seems to be receiving more attention in the programmes of the larger opera houses. It has often been written that with Verdi there are two different periods: the early, often known as the “gallery years”, and the mature period, that gave birth to the musical dramas proper, whose starting point is generally considered to be Rigoletto. I do not consider myself as a musicologist at all, but after many years of listening to Verdi operas, I have come to the conclusion that there are in fact three different periods: the early, the mature and the period of genius. The beginning of the two last would be for me Luisa Miller and Otello, respectively.

This thought is the consequence of my huge admiration for this opera, which in fact initiates the Verdian musical drama. Only the first act is a continuation of the early Verdi, while all the rest of the opera heralds the revolution in Verdi stage works. Besides that, Luisa Miller is an opera of enormous vocal difficulties for the soprano, whose necessary vocal evolution throughout the opera, offers many parallels to Violeta in Traviata.

The Liceu offers a production by the Belgian Gilbert Deflo from Opera National de Paris. There are stage directors that have to turn to “originalities” to get prominence, not showing any respect for music or libretto, whereas others seem still to be anchored in what could be seen in opera houses in the fifties and sixties of the last century. Mr Deflo  seems to have started up the time machine to place Sehnsucht in the centre of his production (they are his own words),  a word that he translates as  ‘nostalgia’. I confess I was full of Sehnsucht watching the production. It was as if time had stopped in the fifties.

The staging is unusual, with a drop curtain at the back painted with Tyrolean mountains, a small house in the centre for the  Miller house, and a few gothic arches for the
the Count's
supposed palace. Stage direction has little interest and the movement of the chorus is very simple: half to the right and half to the left and the produtcion's greatest merit is that it does not disturb the music.

Maurizio Benini was, as ever, the consummately professional and reliable conductor, offering an effective reading but with no excessive inspiration.  The Liceu Orchestra gave a somewhat uneven performance in which  the string section often lacked strength. As usual, the chorus achieved a good standard.

The protagonist Luisa Miller was Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, who was an outstanding interpreter. Her vocal characteristics are very suitable for the important demands that singing Luisa make. She is one of more interesting lyric sopranos of the present time, although she does not enjoy the popularity that her quality deserves. Her voice is very beautiful and she certainly is a very good singer. Nevertheless she lacks the certain something needed to become  a top figure in the opera world. Her capacity of communication with the public is limited and she does not seem convinced herself that she is a great singer. Even so, she is one of the most interesting sopranos in the present panorama. I think that some “star master classes” would be very useful for her: she has  just a fews  high notes that are not fully controlled.

Rodolfo was interpreted by Venezuelan Aquiles Machado, replacing Vincenzo La Scola, whose initial presence in the cast was very surprising, considering his current  vocal state. Machado offered his usual virtues and defects heard over  the last few years. He retains the beauty of his timbre and his capacity to communicate with the public, but his high notes are totally open and he shows an uncontrolled vibrato.

Roberto Frontali is not a dramatic baritone, although he is a good  enough choice, considering the  scarcity of this type of voice. He made a good Miller, both as actor and singer.

Giacomo Prestia was a fine Count Walter, better than on other occasions, which is very good news. Irina Mishura was a luxury as Duchess Federica, considering that the character has only  limited relevance to the plot. She has, however, a worrisome vibrato in the middle range.

The presence of Samuel Ramey as Wurm produced an enormous sadness in  me. The fact that one  of the greatest singers of the last 30 years is singing these secondary roles
 now 
and is unable to control his voice, sinks me into the deepest perplexity.  n the brief role of Laura we had  Nino Surguladze, whose presence in this character is more than a luxury and  Josep Fadó was a very good Villager.

The opening performance had a full house, but the public was not too enthusiastic about it. The only cheers were for Stoyanova while Defló was totally  unnoticed. 
Sehnsucht is obviously not enough.

José M. Irurzun



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