Opera Daily 🎶 — Luisa Miller & Verdi's middle period

"A Verdi aria is like a camera that zooms in on a person’s soul."

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“This is what Verdi expected from singers: emotions so strong that they become ideas. To study archival recordings is to realize how deliberately the old singers marshaled their resources toward the few notes that truly mattered.” 

— Alex Ross, music critic at The New Yorker on Verdi

Luisa Miller

Luisa Miller was Verdi's 15th opera, and it is regarded as the beginning of the composer’s “middle period.” He wrote it in 1849 in his mid-thirties, with the premiere taking place in 1849 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. The opera marks the inflection point from the early Verdi style, strongly influenced by the formal structure of bel canto (for example, the double aria, cavatina and cabaletta) to a more mature Verdi. In Luisa Miller, he turns away from kings and princes to a new environment that is far more intimate, familiar, everyday. Despite the opera’s more down-to-earth setting, it’s an opera about big emotions—love, jealousy, rage, desire—all of them.

Verdi used a more refined composing style with Luisa Miller than the opera’s predecessors and many of the colors in Luisa Miller show up in his later operas like Il TrovatoreLa traviata and even Otello. Because of this, Luisa Miller is considered the proving ground for the polished musical style he perfected four years later with one of his greatest works, La traviata.

Luisa Miller is Verdi’s tragedy based on a play by German playwright Friedrich Schiller. Luisa falls in love with Rodolfo, unaware he is the son of a powerful Count. When Rodolfo’s father learns his son is in love with Luisa, he does everything in his power to destroy the relationship.

Today we’re listening to…

“Dall'aule raggianti” the tenor (Rodolfo) and mezzo-soprano (Federica) duet from Act I of Verdi's Italian opera Luisa Miller.

Federica arrives, and the count leaves Rodolfo and Federica alone. Rodolfo tells Federica that he loves another woman, but Federica, who has worshipped him since childhood, refuses to break off the engagement.

It was difficult to choose just one version to highlight so we are listening to two versions of this duet: Carlo Bergonzi (Rodolfo) and Shirley Verrett (Federica) with Anna Moffo singing Luisa Miller and Placido Domingo (Rodolfo) and Florence Quivar (Federica) with Aprile Millo singing Luisa Miller.

🎧 Example #1: Listen here (6 minute listen) Carlo Bergonzi and Shirley Verrett singing “Dall'aule raggianti” the tenor and mezzo-soprano duet from Act I of Verdi's Italian opera Luisa Miller. If you want more Luisa Miller with these singers, you can find excerpts from a 1964 RCA recording here. [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**] 

🎧 Example #2: Listen here (6 minute listen) Placido Domingo and Florence Quivar singing “Dall'aule raggianti” the tenor and mezzo-soprano duet from Act I of Verdi's Italian opera Luisa Miller.

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“The appeal of Italian opera is difficult to put into words, but it has something to do with the activation of primal feelings. Operatic characters have a way of laying themselves bare, and they are never more uninhibited than at the climax of a Verdi tragedy.”

— Alex Ross, music critic at The New Yorker on Verdi

Want more?

  • Verdi followed convention in casting the essential roles; the soprano and tenor are the young lovers, and the father is a baritone. The “other woman” is, of course, a mezzo-soprano. Sound familiar? 💃

  • The overture to Luisa Miller is fantastic. The entire piece is in one tempo and based on a single theme from the third act.

  • Verdi was a perfectionist. It wasn’t uncommon at the end of rehearsal for the scores of his conductors to be covered in their own sweat.

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“The greatness of Verdi is a simple thing. A solitary man, he found a way of speaking to limitless crowds, and his method was to sink himself completely into his characters. He never composed music for music's sake; every note has a precise dramatic function. The most astounding scenes in his work are those in which all the voices come together in a visceral mass—like a human wave that could carry anything before it.”

— Alex Ross, music critic at The New Yorker on Verdi

Thank you again for reading (listening),

Michele

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