In a small corner of every serious opera-goer's heart sits the secret hope that one day, he will walk into a performance with a singer he's never heard of and come out blown away, feeling that he's just seen the next Kaufmann or Harteros. Singing the part of Rodolfo in Verdi's Luisa Miller, that's just what tenor Luciano Ganci did for me with the radiance and generosity of his voice.


The occasion was the closing event of the Budapest Spring Festival, with the opera performed in concert in the pin-sharp acoustics of the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall by the Teatro di San Carlo, the opera company for whom Verdi wrote Luisa Miller in Naples in 1849. It's a work that's considered to be the transition point between Verdi's early style and that of his middle period (Rigoletto, La traviata etc): the Bellinian set pieces are very much in evidence, but the writing becomes more fluid as the opera progresses, and Verdi's trademark flair for dramatic climaxes pervades the work. The story, a considerable simplification of a Schiller play, shows Verdi's anti-authoritarianism beginning to burgeon: here is a tale in which love tries to conquer all but is crushed under the boot of authority.

Luciano Ganci and Elena Moşuc © János Posztós | Palace of Arts, Budapest
Luciano Ganci and Elena Moşuc
© János Posztós | Palace of Arts, Budapest
Seeing a somewhat rarely performed opera played in concert is always going to be something of a specialist interest, and the fact that the surtitles were only in Hungarian made it essential to do one's research in advance. But given those two constraints, this was about as a wonderful an evening's opera as I've ever attended, with virtually every aspect of the performance excellent and the two main roles utterly outstanding. Daniele Rustioni is a flamboyant presence on the podium, performing a one man choreography of the whole work, and his orchestra didn't put a foot wrong all evening. They played with energy, with plenty of flair for Verdi's phrasing and, above all, with balance. The San Carlo Chorus in full flight is an impressive thing, and the orchestra matched it for volume in the highs while bringing the level down to just the right level for the soloists. In the big ensemble pieces, there was a glorious blend of solo voices soaring above chorus underlaid by orchestra, each element clearly audible. And there was plenty of individual instrumental virtuosity, most notably from the trombone section (which included, to my delight, a real cimbasso).

Luisa Miller has some great roles for the low voices. Father-daughter relationships were one of Verdi's specialities, and in his opening aria as Luisa's father "Ah! Fu giusto il mio sospetto", Vitaly Bilyy gave us a demonstration of what Verdi baritone singing is all about: smooth, ardent, lyrical and lilting. The villain in the piece is the not too subtly named Wurm: Marco Spotti played the snarling, cynical plotter to perfection. These two stood out in a strong supporting cast, together with Nino Surguladze, who showed lovely timbre in her role as Federica, the Other Woman.

Daniele Rustioni © János Posztós | Palace of Arts, Budapest
Daniele Rustioni
© János Posztós | Palace of Arts, Budapest
The splendid orchestral performance and the strong all round cast did a fine job of displaying what a great and underperformed work Luisa Miller is. But what blew us away were the two lead voices. The title role is highly demanding, especially in the exhausting duet of Act III, and Elena Moşuc gave it everything, showing truly exceptional vocal control: however quick the staccato coloratura, however dizzying the height of a run, however loud she had to sing to soar above the ensemble, Moşuc was up to it, all the time retaining sweetness of tone and focus on her demeanor as the innocent victim Luisa.

On its own, Moşuc's performance would have made this a memorable evening. But it was trumped by the extraordinary singing of Luciano Ganci. Here is a tenor whose phrasing flows in a wonderful arc and who is so confident across the whole range that he spares nothing in making the transition to his high notes. The smoothness, warmth and abandoned phrasing put me in mind of listening to a young Pavarotti. His aria "Quando le sere al placido", Rodolfo's lament when he has been duped into thinking that Luisa has betrayed him, is one of Verdi's great tenor showpieces, and I will remember the desperate sadness of the "Mi tradia" which closes each verse for a very long time. Memo to Kasper Holten at the Royal Opera: please, please engage this man for a few long runs while you can still afford him. You don't have long.

*****