VERDI: Luisa Miller (complete opera), Blu-ray (2013)Cast: Stefano Vizioli, Vladislav Sulimsk, Taras Shtonda, Luc Robert, Olesya Golovneva/ Malmö Opera Chorus & Orchestra Conductor: Michael Güttler Stage Director: Stefano Vizioli Studio: Arthaus Musik 108 088 [Distr. by Naxos] (1/28/14) Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 1080i HD Audio: Italian DTS-HD MA 5.1 Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Korean Length: 152 minutes Rating: *****
Poor Louisa Miller. I speak not of the eponymous character of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1849 opera, but of the opera itself. It is been marginalized as minor, notable only for beginning the composer’s “middle period,” derided for not being “top drawer Verdi,” and held accountable for being a bourgeois family tragedy because it fails to encompass vaster themes of nationhood and human destiny as explored previously in operas like Ernani and Nabucco. Some critics have even said that it is inferior in technique to the opera that preceded it by two years, the dramatic but decidedly un-tuneful Macbeth. All of this is unfair. Louisa Miller may not be great Verdi, but it is good Verdi. And this performance, despite being live, is a worthwhile one.
Is that because the Swedes really know how to put on an opera and have since the days of Set Svanholm, Astrid Varnay, and Birgit Nilsson? Perhaps. Olesysa Golovneva as Luisa sings the role with depth, precision, and poignancy. Her acting is also impeccable, as she believably strides across the stage like a confident young girl at the beginning and then gradually takes on the hunched trudge of a doomed one as the tragedy unfolds. Luc Robert plays Rodolfo, the haplessly manipulated son of the scheming Count Walter. The plot is pure mid-19th-century melodrama, but at no point is it implausible, considering Verdi’s emphasis on the class roles of the characters.
The arias range from the loveliness of the first scene’s “Lo vidi, e’l primo palpito” with its brilliant cadenzas to the elder Miller’s tearing lamentations of “Ah, fu giusto il mio sospetto!” as he feels forebodings of disaster. Few composers could handle a concluding stretto like Verdi, and the one he employs during the lovers’ final duet is as bracing as the one in Finale II of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.
Staging and lighting are superior in this production. In 2.1, the blue lighting of Wurm and Luisa is harsh and merciless like the fateful deal struck between them. The expressionist sets add to the eeriness and unnatural atmosphere of the denouement. Two giant hands are frozen in the act of rending the turf in Act 1, like an earthquake. And in Act 3 a statue of a giant hand crushes the cottage in which Luisa awaits her fate.
Operas on DVDs are notorious for omitting extras, and this Blu ray omits even scene selections, which I would have liked to have had at my disposal. (It makes finding individual arias easy when impressing friends.) However, the splendid sound, never harsh or bright but always fulsome and vast, and the expert cinematography, make up for this petty shortcoming.