Verdi Luisa Miller
When Maazel's set of Luisa Miller was issued in 1980 its rivals were the RCA recording under Cleva and the Decca set under Maag. Nothing much has changed since then. During the 1990s Levine added the opera to his Verdi series from the Met for Sony (9/92), but the front-runners are still the former three recordings. Each has enjoyable individual performances, but they don't quite add up to an all-round recommendation.
The strength of this DG reissue is the singing of the three principals. The production of Luisa Miller at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on which the set was based, probably marked the high point of Katia Ricciarelli's career. Maybe the recording caught her just a year too late, when some harsh sounds had started to intrude in her singing at forte above the stave, but the soft singing remains beautiful and the character is immensely touching. Domingo sings Rodolfo with a voice of metal as firm and glowing as bronze, even if he does not have the poetry of Bergonzi or the flair of Pavarotti. Bruson is heard in one of the best roles in his repertoire: the sympathetic music of the Miller calls for exactly the long, lyrical lines at which he excels, often spanning two phrases in a single breath where the average Verdi baritone would be left gasping.
Howell makes a stately, but not very incisive Walter. Neither Ganzarolli nor Obraztsova had been in the Royal Opera stage production, and the decision to bring them into the cast solely for the recording was not justified by the results. Obraztsova's thick-voiced Federica is a liability, but the real stumbling-block is Maazel's insensitive conducting. I attended the recording sessions in All Saints' Church, Tooting (an over-resonant venue for Verdi), back in 1979 and remember how the brass section balked at some of the vulgar ideas he was trying to press upon them. Nevertheless, as a totality, this set remains the equal of any before us at the moment. At mid-price it is recommended.'