VERDI Luisa Miller (Repušić)
Based on concert performances in Munich last year, this is serious, spirited Verdi that nonetheless isn’t going to push either the opera or the orchestra performing it into the top league.
Verdi’s Schiller adaptation, scrunched by librettist Salvadore Cammarano into a tonally tricky three-act melodrama, is arguably more important for what it signals about Verdi’s ambition than for its own qualities as a music drama. The heroine looks back to hapless victims like Lucia di Lammermoor – a pawn of ‘greater’ men who decide her fate for her – but also ahead to Verdi’s own Violetta, both railing against her fate and achieving some kind of peace with it. Verdi, a great delver into familial strife, also depicts two dysfunctional father-child relationships. Rodolfo is struggling to get away from the shadow of the corrupt Count Walter. Luisa’s kindlier but overzealous father, ex-soldier Miller, is unable to protect her from disaster.
The benchmark recording remains the Royal Opera House under Lorin Maazel with Katia Ricciarelli and Plácido Domingo. Marina Rebeka’s slightly metallic tone lacks the silvery, silken beauty of Ricciarelli at her best, and her Luisa takes a while to hit her stride: her coloratura is accurate but also somewhat wiry in expression, as if delivered more through determination than delight. Yet she grows in stature as the drama goes on and things get worse (and worse) for Luisa. She rides the waves of ‘Tu puniscimi, o Signore’ and the aria’s fiery cabaletta ‘A brani, a brani’ with blazing conviction, although there is more to the orchestral accompaniment to this scena than the jaunty rum-ti-tum supplied by the Munich Radio Orchestra under Ivan Repušić. The Croatian shows a good grip of the music but the playing, no more than decent, lacks some spark and imagination. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that one of the most startling passages here is the unaccompanied quartet in Act 2 for Luisa, her love rival Federica, Walter and his sinister, predatory chum, Wurm.
The rest of the cast is strong. Ivan Magrì reportedly took lessons from Luciano Pavarotti, and there’s something of Pav’s open-throated sound in the young tenor’s ringing tone and winning ardour: his showpiece moment, ‘Quando le sere al placido’, seethes with affecting anguish. The two dads, George Petean’s Miller and Marko Mimica’s Walter, have fine voices but neither quite has enough gravitas; Mimica, barely into his thirties, is simply too young for the role. As the utter rotter of the piece, Wurm, Ante Jerkunica could be more memorably nasty. Judit Kutasi sinks into the contralto-ish depths of the sketchily drawn Federica with some relish.