A solid, beautifully sung Luisa Miller. What makes an the automatic first choice is: the superb conducting of Maazel, the splendid performance of the Covent Garden orchestra and the consistent high quality singing. The singing of Ricciarelli, Domingo, Bruson and Howell is of the highest quality. Ricciarelli and Bruson especially have never sounded better. This has been an often overlooked opera, but it represents Verdi in fine form. Moving choruses, moments of real drama and plenty of lush lyrical arias make this an opera (and performance) not to be missed.
At university, one of the texts I studied was Schiller’s lay “Kabale und Liebe” (“Love and Intrigue”) and it is this on which Verdi based his opera “Luisa Miller”.
As Julian Budden’s scholarly sleeve notes points out, the opera marked a turning point in Verdi’s career and a move towards the portrayal of ordinary human beings and human emotions, even though this might not seem all that obvious to the casual opera goer or listener.
The music is, of course, absolutely glorious; it may be not as familiar as that of, say, “Rigoletto”, La Traviata” or “Il Trovatore”, but it offers four rewarding leading roles.
Katia Ricciarelli made something of a name for herself as Luisa in the Covent Garden production of the late 1970s on which this recording is based, as did the baritone Renato Bruson; both are quite wonderful. It is good to hear that long-term Covent Garden stalwart Gwynne Howell (still active in his 70s) in a major operatic role and his soft-grained bass is a pleasure to hear. The tenor is the young Plácido Domingo; he is on top form and gets to sing the work’s most famous aria, “Quando le sere al placido”.
The other two major roles have I suppose, sub-principal status. The mezzo part of Federica is a pallid substitute for Schiller’s Lady Milford, but Elena Obraztsova, while not quite chewing up the scenery as she does on some recordings, certainly makes her more than a mere cypher. Covent Garden’s resident Wurm at the time was Richard Van Allan, but as he had recorded the role elsewhere, he is here replaced by Wladimiro Ganzarolli, who I have always thought of as a basso buffo; he turns in a perfectly serviceable performance and the great bass duet goes very well.
The Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House play and sing splendidly for Lorin Maazel, who shows a great affinity for the music.
The recording, made in All Saints’ Church, London, in 1979, is first rate.
No libretto is included, but this can be easily accessed online.
This is a splendid recording of a great opera and, what is more, it is available at a bargain price!
As previous reviewers have noted, this recording by Lorin Maazel, Katia Ricciarelli, Placido Domingo, Renato Bruson is an overall winner. Is this the 'best' Luisa Miller on record? I think Katia Ricciarelli in the title role of Luisa runs a very close race with Monserrat Caballe in the recording with Pavarotti, made only a couple of years earlier. In fact, Ricciarelli has one added advantage over Caballe in this role - the more girlish portrayal than an otherwise more mature (and a bit matronly) voice by the more mature soprano in that other recording. There is one 1970's (1976?) live recording of this same role by Ricciarelli with Jose Carreras. Here, in 1980, she is more musically seasoned in her vocal portrayal. Placido Domingo had a DVD recording of this opera with Renata Scotto earlier on in the 1970's. Domingo, as always, is a great singing actor. That said, if you compare this recording of his with Luciano Pavarotti's, one could not help but admit that in respect of Verdian roles, Pav had a clear edge over Domingo, especially earlier Verdian operas like Luisa Miller. Domingo's plush and velvety high baritone isn't the true Verdian stuff, and his ability to manoeuvre the more florid passages never gained an inch of ground over Pavarotti. Having said that, Bruson and Obratsova both offer sparkling performances as the miller and Duchess. For fans of Ricciarelli and Bruson, you would do no wrong in purchasing this recording.