She gave a masterful performance in this rarely performed 1849 Verdi opera at Art Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre. Her co-stars, including Italian tenor Riccardo Massi, were equally as brilliant, ensuring a most entertaining if not sad and exhausting night at the opera. After all Luisa Miller is not a happy story!
Sweet and innocent Luisa Miller (Car) is in love with a stranger and her father, a former solider, (Michael Honeyman) is worried. His suspicions are well founded. While the man (Massi) calls himself Carlo he is really Rodolfo, the son of a powerful Count (David Parkin). The Count’s manservant, the double-crossing Wurm (Steven Gallop), knows his true identity, and reveals it to Miller, hoping to have Luisa for himself. He also tells the Count that his son Rodolfo is in love with Luisa.
The Count is furious—he wants his son to marry widowed duchess Federica (Sian Pendry) so he arrests Luisa’s father. Wurm tells Luisa the only way to save her father is to write a letter, claiming she never loved Rodolfo and pledging herself to Wurm. Distraught, Luisa agrees with deadly results.
The sense of fate is tangible, thanks to the set design which comprises a monumental and memorial like marble family setting which hangs above the cast for much of the opera. There’s also plenty of black in the costumes of both the chorus and wrongdoers!
While the story is dark and sad the singing and acting are uplifting. As a result I was totally engrossed in the story. Musical highlights include Quando le sere al placido (which I later discovered is the best known aria from the opera) and a capella sung by Car, Pendry, Gallop and Parkin. The performance of Opera Australia’s chorus was another highlight.
Those far more knowledgeable about opera than I am say this 2014 co-production with Opera de Lausanne of Switzerland is one of the best presentations of Luisa Miller. Given it’s so rarely performed it seems the perfect opportunity for opera lovers and novices alike to form their own opinions on one of Verdi’s lesser known works.
Opera Australia is staging Luisa Miller at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre until May 28. For more information visit Opera Australia’s website or ring 03 9685 3700.
*All photographs by Jeff Busby.
Jenny Burns attended the opening night of Luisa Miller on May 16 as a guest of Opera Australia.