‘Luisa Miller’ opera to be broadcast live in Whitefish

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Giuseppe Verdi’s little-known gem “Luisa Miller” will be broadcast live at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center and selected cinemas nationwide on Saturday, April 14 beginning at 10:30 a.m.

It is a heart-wrenching story of romantic love, fatherly devotion, jealousy, deception and poison. The title role is played by this season’s soprano superstar Sonya Yoncheva, and her father is played by none other than the legendary tenor-turned-baritone, the ageless Placido Domingo. Sung in Italian with English subtitles, the opera runs 3 hours 28 minutes, including two intermissions.

Tickets are available at the door in Whitefish for $20 for adults, $5 for students and $10 for college students.

Yes, this appears to be another tragic opera in which the ill-fated lovers both die. So — why would we want to see “Luisa Miller?”

First and foremost, “Luisa Miller” is a Verdi opera, and Verdi is regarded by some as opera’s most consistently excellent composer. Verdi did not write operas for opera snobs, but for regular down-to-earth people with an emphasis on real human emotions such as jealousy, greed, and desire.

“Luisa Miller” is also infrequently performed — the opera debuted in Naples, Italy in 1849, and the Met waited until 1929 to first perform it, then again in the ‘70s and again about a decade ago. It returns this season to the Met, and who knows when it will be performed there again.

The opera begins when village girl Luisa Miller falls in love with Carlo, a handsome stranger. But the local Count’s evil assistant appropriately named Wurm has always loved Luisa and reveals that Carlo is not who he says he is, but is actually Rodolfo, the son of his boss, the hated Count Walter.

Luisa’s father becomes enraged at her choice of the despicable Count’s son as a lover. Rodolfo visits her father and pleads his love for Luisa. Meanwhile, Count Walter wants his son Rodolfo to marry the duchess Frederica, but Rodolfo would rather not.

In a bad moment, Count Walter insults Luisa, and Miller vigorously defends his daughter and her right to choose a lover. This incenses the Count, who orders both Luisa and her father to be imprisoned. Rodolfo secures their freedom by threatening to reveal a secret—that Walter became Count by killing his way to the top.

Speaking of seeing it while you can, Luisa Miller is an opportunity to see Placido Domingo once again own the Met stage, his 149th role at the Met. Mr. Domingo is an ageless wonder whom the international press calls “The King of Opera.” He has morphed from a mega-star tenor in his younger years to a baritone star in his own right at the ripe old age of 77, give or take. Critics praised Domingo’s performance in Luisa Miller for his straightforward, tender-hearted portrayal of Luisa’s father. Most aging opera stars exit the stage in favor of conducting or giving limited recitals or managing arts organizations, but not Placido. To see him perform at this high a level at his age is as remarkable as if Roger Federer were still winning tennis tournaments 15 years from now. As one opera critic reported, “You almost don’t believe your eyes and ears.”

The hype surrounding Placido Domingo’s appearance in Luisa Miller somewhat overshadows the other great voices in this opera. Sonya Yoncheva stars in the title role, and her pure soprano voice in the upper register stands out nicely against the deeper, darker colors of the several basses and baritones in the cast (evil Count Walter, his creepy assistant Wurm, and Domingo as Miller). The romantic lead Rodolfo is sung by Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, whom we admired singing the role of Lenski in the very first Whitefish HD broadcast, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

And lastly, we HD audiences have come to expect the unexpected from the more obscure operas we have seen this season. Bellini’s Norma blew many of us away, as did Rossini’s Semiramide. I have a strong suspicion that Luisa Miller will be another of those unknown gems. Remember that it starts one-half hour earlier than usual: at 10:30 am MDT on Saturday, April 14 in Whitefish and at selected cinemas around the country.

Act 1: (Set in rural England in the mid-1800s) The village girl Luisa Miller falls in love with Carlo, a handsome stranger. But the local Count’s evil assistant appropriately named Wurm has always loved Luisa and reveals that Carlo is not who he says he is, but is actually Rodolfo, the son of his boss, the hated Count Walter. Luisa’s father becomes enraged at her choice of the despicable Count’s son as a lover. Rodolfo visits her father and pleads his love for Luisa. Meanwhile, Count Walter wants his son Rodolfo to marry the duchess Frederica, but Rodolfo would rather not. In a bad moment, Count Walter insults Luisa, and Miller vigorously defends his daughter and her right to choose a lover. This incenses the Count, who orders both Luisa and her father to be imprisoned. Rodolfo secures their freedom by threatening to reveal a secret—that Walter became Count by killing his way to the top.

Act 2: Luisa’s father has been dragged away in chains. Wurm tells Luisa that she can free him by writing a letter that pledges her love to Wurm, “And you’d better act like you love me, too,” Wurm demands. Wurm and Walter plot to send Luisa’s letter to Rodolfo, but they know that Rodolfo might reveal the criminal manner in which Count Walter (with Wurm’s help) became Count. Luisa only wants to die, but to protect her father, she keeps up her pretense of loving Wurm. Walter persuades the despairing Rodolfo that he can avenge Luisa’s change of heart by marrying the duchess Frederica. Rodolfo sings the poignant aria “Quando le sere al placido” (When at eventide, in the tranquil glimmer of a starry sky) that laments the happy times he spent with Luisa.

Act 3: We hear the distant sounds of the wedding celebration for Rodolfo and Frederica. Miller is freed from prison and returns home and reads the letter Luisa wrote to Rodolfo and urges her to stay alive for her father despite her desire to die. Rodolfo quietly enters and slips poison into the water jug, then confronts Luisa about the letter she wrote him. Not knowing that the water is poisoned, Luisa drinks from the cup; Rodolfo drinks, too. Before dying, she tells him the truth about the letter—that she always loved him, but wrote the letter to protect her father. Wurm and Walter arrive, and Rodolfo manages to kill Wurm before succumbing to the poison himself.

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