Here are 10 reasons you should see an obscure Verdi opera you’ve probably never heard of. The Metropolitan Opera’s production of the bourgeois tragedy, “Luisa Miller” will be livestreamed to the Vallecito Room at Fort Lewis College at 11 a.m. Saturday.
1. Juicy themes: political corruption, class conflict, garden-variety deceit and doomed love. Who could ask for anything more?
2. An improbably story: Rodolfo, an aristocrat with too much time on his hands, goes slumming in a local village and falls for Luisa. He deceives her with a false identity and wins her love. He also disappoints his powerful father who wants Rodolfo to marry a wealthy widow. Wurm, a smarmy court underling, also covets Luisa, setting in motion a subplot that ends badly for everyone. Subtitle: “Rodolfo’s Stupidity.”
3. Source material: In 1849, Verdi’s librettist, Salvatore Cammarano, suggested a new work based on Friedrich Schiller’s tragedy: “Kabale und Liebe” (Intrigue and Love). The German play dramatized how class and politics destroy simple love – a favorite 18th century Romantic trope. “Kabale und Liebe” premiered in 1784 with star-crossed lovers Luise Miller and Ferdinand von Walter. Schiller set the tragedy back in 1650 in the Tyrolean Alps.
4. Schiller’s shelf life: The original play has simmered in popular imagination for centuries. Long before Verdi catapulted it to operatic fame, the play appeared all over Europe in English, French, and Italian translations. In 1913, a silent film emerged. By the 1950s, West German films gave the Schiller play more oxygen. In 2009, London’s Donmar Warehouse staged a scorching revival .
5. Met revivals: In 1979, The Met staged a lavish production starring Renata Scoto as Luisa and Placido Domingo as Rodolfo. In 2011, the Met hired Australian director Elijah Moshinsky to reimagine Verdi’s original concept honoring Schiller’s Tyrolean village and castle. But Moshinsky time-traveled to rural England and set it purposefully in Verdi’s compositional era:1849.
6. Sets and Costumes: Designer Santo Loquasto delivers a realistic vision that will please traditionalists who moan about time travel and abstraction. Rural England in the mid-19th century looks believable from village life to a castle.
7. Father-daughter theme: Verdi had a penchant for filial devotion, linking to his biography directly. Luisa is the daughter of village musician, Miller. Their bond is one of love and loyalty and plays out significantly.
8. Cast: Miller, the father, will be sung by Placido Domingo. In 1979, he sang Rodolfo, the tenor lead. Now that he’s transitioned to baritone, it’s bittersweet to see him again in the same opera in the Moshinsky revival.
9. Music: “Luisa Miller” is mid-career Verdi, his 15th opera. If you love his music, listen especially for the tenor aria in Act II: “Quando le sere al placido,” or Luisa’s soaring “Tu puniscimi, O Signore.” And most unusual, watch for the Act II bass-baritone duet.
10. Rarity: This opera may not be performed often or be familiar these days, but it’s Verdi and it’s Schiller.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.