Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

The role of Luisa is sung by Krassimira Stoyanova and that of Rodolfo,
known first as Carlo, by Joseph Calleja. Luisa’s father Miller is
performed by Quinn Kelsey, and Count Walter, father of Rodolfo, is
Christian Van Horn. The Duchess Federica is sung by Alisa Kolosova, while
Solomon Howard performs as Wurm, a subordinate of Count Walter. The Lyric
Opera Orchestra is conducted by Enrique Mazzola, and the Lyric Opera Chorus
is prepared by its Chorus Master Michael Black. The production, owned by
the San Francisco Opera, is by Francesca Zambello. Sets, costumes, and
lighting are designed by Michael Yeargan, Dunya Ramicova, and Mark
McCullough respectively. Mr. Howard makes his debut at Lyric Opera in these

In the first scene of the opening act Luisa stands apart at stage right
while the chorus of villagers seems to fill much of the remaining open
space. In this production the sets are conceived with an imaginative use of
an open space at stage rear. The space is at times covered – in this first
scene with a cloth bearing illustrations that denote an Alpine landscape –
or it is left open to accommodate entrances or departures altering the
focus of performers on stage. The position of society as a witness to
individual or familial misfortune in love is a frequent device in the genre
of late eighteenth-century “bourgeois tragedy” to which
Verdi’s source by Friedrich Schiller belongs. For the lovers
themselves the tragedy lies in the unbridgeable distance occasioned by

Once the villagers sing their good wishes to Luisa on this her birthday,
Miller enters to add his paternal compliments. In this role Mr. Kelsey
makes the most of the declamatory phrasing which expresses both joy and
apprehension. His flexible baritone assumes an ominous cast when he
broaches the topic of an “ignoto” (“unknown”) Carlo
with his daughter. In her first aria, as a response to Miller, Ms.
Stoyanova sings of her love for this newcomer [“m’amo,
l’amai” (“He fell in love with me, and I with
him”)] after calming her father’s fears. Rather than singing
the individual notes in a skipping progression suggesting the
character’s infatuation Stoyanova expresses the line in sustained
pitches, so that Luisa effectively sounds more mature.

Almost immediately Carlo enters. In this role Calleja displays the focused,
urgent commitment so vital to a principal Verdian tenor. The impetuous
lover Carlo and Luisa exchange their assurances of continued devotion. The
protagonists sing in succession and jointly of language’s inability
to express their love, during which Calleja and Stoyanova sing with
rounded, full-voiced lyrical ardor. Their momentary disappearance with the
crowd into the Alpine church is followed by the appearance of Wurm and his
confrontation with Miller.

The role of Count Walter’s deputy Wurn is performed with imposing
force by Mr. Howard, yet his voice retains a flexible line with
considerable variety in low pitches. His opening words to Miller,
“Ferma ed ascolta” (“Stop and listen”) are rife
with menace, just as the following address Howard expresses Wurm’s
“gelosia” with accelerating pressure while assuring Miller that
he will not relinquish his desires for Luisa. In the gloriously lyrical
response, “Sacra la scelta” (“Sacred is the
choice”) Mr. Kelsey’s Miller resists the threats of authority
and elaborates on his duties as father and protector. Kelsey performs this
central aria with accomplished legato as well as decorative
touches to enhance repeated phrases such as “Non son tiranno, padre
son io” (“I am not a tyrant, I am a father.”). Kelsey is
especially adept at singing Verdi’s descending lines with emotional
force, just as his extended pitches at the close emphasize the significance
of this aria.

In general, the low voices in the cast leave an especially strong
impression. In a subsequent scene in the noble’s palace Count Walter
muses on his position. He has summoned Rodolfo in order to force a meeting
between his son and the Duchessa as a prospective bride. Mr. Van
Horn’s performance resonates with noble demeanor, his steadfast
convictions on family and obligation reflected in his urgent declamation of
“Il mio sangue, la vita darei” (“I would give my blood,
my life”), followed by forte top notes matching the
orchestra and a concluding phrase descending to the depths of the
Count’s soul. At the same time when confronted later by
Rodolfo’s awareness of his secret Van Horn expresses shades of
vulnerability which his character is eager to conceal. Music from afar,
growing gradually in volume, announces the Duchess’s arrival. Ms.
Kolosova’s imaginative entry on a stylized horse heralds her
characters noble lineage while causing awe among those who greet her. In
her pivotal scene with Rodolfo Kolosova’s solid vocal range captures
the Duchessa’s importunate declarations with chilling emotional
fervor. Calleja’s requests to be released from this grip are equally
exciting as the scene emerges as one of the most dramatically exciting of
the production. The duet also sets into motion the remaining ensembles of
the first act culminating in the near arrest of Luisa and her father as
well as the rupture between father and son.

The scenes of Act II and III are considerably more intimate than the public
gaze and pageantry associated with preceding, longer act. The dramatic
structure of Act II allows for the intrigue from the German source
(“Kabale”) to be realized. Despite Rodolfo’s threat to
his father, Miller has been jailed before the start of the nexr act. Luisa
must agree to Wurm’s demands in order to aid her father. At the scene
between Wurm and Luisa Stoyanova projects an heroic determination new to
her character just as Howard’s selfish insincerity as Wurm seems to
grow with each line. By insisting that she sign a letter committing herself
to Wurm, this henchman of Count Walter provides testimony for
Rodolfo’s eventual mistrust of his beloved. Calleja’s reaction
captures the wistful mood of “Quando le sere al placido”
(“When at evening in the calm light”) and recalls his bristle
of outbursts at the close of the first act. Yet by the start of Act III the
protagonist lovers have here reached a series of fatalistic resolutions.
Both Stoyanova and Calleja sing poignantly of their renewed devotion but
society’s threat now limits their love to the time they have left
until the poison takes effect. Once Wurm is killed in a parting blow, Count
Walter is left alone with his secret and its torments.

Salvatore Calomino

image_description=Joseph Calleja and Krassimira Stoyanova [Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
product_title=Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago
product_by=A review by Salvatore Calomino
product_id=Above: Joseph Calleja and Krassimira Stoyanova [Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]