I grew up with the Anna Moffo recording of Luisa Miller, so it was fortuitous that the Met gave the premiere of a new production in 1968, around the time RCA released the album. Even then, it was still a rarity having previously been performed only six times at the Met in 1929 and 1930.
Nathaniel Merrill’s production, notable for Attilio Colonnello’s proscenium-within-a-proscenium set with an onstage audience of supernumeraries in 1849 evening attire observing and reacting to the opera, was dragged into the 1990s before a new production appeared in 2001, but the opera has now gone missing from the Met for a decade.
Things are worse here in Vienna, where Staatsoper has given the opera a total of 38 times between 1974 and 2000.
I was lucky to get my fill of wonderful performances, with Luisas such as Katia Ricciarelli, Adriana Maliponte, and Renata Scotto partnered by José Carreras, Richard Tucker, Plácido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti.
If you don’t know the opera, considered to be Verdi’s fourth major success following Nabucco, Ernani and Macbeth, this 2015 San Francisco Opera performance provides a good—if at times uneven—introduction. Luisa may give the opera its name, but the star here is Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo, who gets to sing one of Verdi’s most gorgeous tenor arias, “Quando le sere al placido.” And even though it’s a small role as far as Verdi mezzo roles go, I love Federica’s music, especially her duet with Rodolfo, and the luscious Ekaterina Semenchuk raises it from the ranks of seconda donna.
Giuseppe Verdi: Luisa Miller
San Francisco Opera
Nicola Luisotti, conductor
Luisa Miller – Leah Crocetto
Rodolfo – Michael Fabiano
Miller – Vitaliy Bilyy
Federica – Ekaterina Semenchuk
Count Walter – Daniel Sumegi
Wurm – Andrea Silvestrelli
Laura – Jacqueline Piccolino
A peasant – Christopher Jackson