A performance as musically rich and emotionally powerful as the San Carlo’s leaves one conjecturing why this opera isn't staged more often. Yet, Luisa Miller is pivotal in Verdi's maturation as a musician.

<i>Luisa Miller</i> in Naples © Francesco Squeglia | Teatro San Carlo
Luisa Miller in Naples
© Francesco Squeglia | Teatro San Carlo

Luisa Miller is a work that followed earlier operas, where the public were allowed to read semi-hidden political messages in support of the unification of Italy; its première dates from 1849, a year after the unsuccessful revolutions that shook Europe. The opera represents Verdi's choice to turn to more intimate stories, but also to continue transcending formal conventions of the genre, in order to hit new depths in emotional denouement. Yet the disappointment of the times can be read in the description of the love story between aristocratic Rodolfo and bourgeois Luisa, whose relationship is contrasted and eventually destroyed by the class prejudices of their fathers.

Most productions tend to elude the political context it is immersed in, by treating it as a mere domestic drama. Director Andrea De Rosa, however, presented it as engaged music theatre. He updated the opera to today, moving the place from the Tyrol to Naples, giving it almost emblematic significance, for in the social context of today any city with crime can be recognised.

Thus, he opts for a moralistic point of view, turning Walter from Count to a Mafia boss who holds the balance of power with the aid of  his bodyguards, while Wurm’s subtle intrigues were turned into arrogant intimidations. Miller’s house is a modest, gloomy apartment, with Luisa’s bed ever present on stage, the poor girl being the final victim of prejudices against women. The director, in an interview, had described how he saw Luisa as one of the tens of women murdered every year in Italy by their men, for mistaken love or jealousy. 

The staging idea was not appreciated by the public of the première, but in the following performances the boos turned into bursts of applause. Maybe the drama of noble class privilege abusing honest people could be emphasized more, but the story is clearly told and a terrific ensemble of singers was given space to do their job.

Soprano Jiulianna Di Giacomo was a vocally brilliant heroine. Her voice excelled with brightness and colour, also in vocal extreme situations. She intensely conveyed Luisa’s innocent and mild personality (Luisa is the only one to reject Miller's values until the end), and Di Giacomo pulled out all the registers from the glittering entrance until her miserable, dark-shadowed agony, being strained on the higher notes when expressing profound emotions.

Luciano Ganci's Rodolfo expressed love with delicacy and confronted hardship with boldness. His big second act aria ("Quando le sere al placido") oscillated between sweet memories of love and the pain of betrayal, with a moving and beautifully sung rendition.

The two bass roles, István Kovács as Count Walter and Marco Spotti as Wurm were both strong. The rock-solid core of Kovàcs tone was in line with Count Walter's pitiless nature, yet his was a composite interpretation, showing flashes of a (mistaken) fatherly love that led to the final tragedy. Spotti's voice may at first seem too stout and round for the iniquitous Wurm, but his interpretation rightly suggested the shrewd flatterer. The cast was completed by the accurately sung Federica of mezzo Martina Belli.

This was a musically flawless production of Luisa Miller, perfect in almost every single detail, and all the merit goes to Daniele Rustioni, whose conducting was perfectly paced, with the orchestra and chorus in fine form. He pulled out a rich, full, perfectly balanced sound, with intense instrumental colours that supported the singers, emphasized the emotional moods and created and maintained the tension throughout the whole performance.

***11