A spirited performance
Juan Lleras | Bogotá, Colombia | 08/31/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this performance in a copy of the original broadcast. Not only were Domingo, Scotto and Milnes in their prime but the overall production is beautiful.
This performmance is one of those instances in which the singers, the greatest in their profession at the time, knowing it is being produced for video, give the best of their craft.
Domingo is dazzling, powerful and convincing as Rodolfo. His 'Quando le sere al placido' aria followed by the tragic 'L'ara ol'avello aprestammi' answer to his father request of marrying the Countess instead of his beloved Luisa, is perhaps among the best singing Domingo has ever done.
Renata Scotto's powerful expressive voice also in her prime gives Luisa character and credibility. The duet in the first act with Rodolfo is a delight to listen.
Morris with his deep tragic voice (remember Die Walküre) gives the sinister, treacherous Wurm a nice place in this performance. As does Giaiotti in Rodolfo's father 'Il Conte di Walter' role.
Jean Craft, alto expressive voice is perfect for the elegant Duchess doomed by a wrong match.
Last, but by no means least, is the strong and musical Sherill Milnes, who performs a moving, yet menacing Miller. His bravado in the 'A fu giusto il mio sospetto' aria confirming the young man pretending his daughter is a nobleman and not the peasant is a show of vocal fireworks. (Although I know many don't like Milnes, I cannot forget a beautiful Iago in Boston with McCracken and the Met, when I was a young man. Since then I have been his faithful fan.)
With the excellent leadership of Levine, this is a one of a kind perfomance not to be missed."
If you love Italian opera, and the Met, it's a no-brainer
C. Boerger | Columbus, OH USA | 09/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ever since reading that there was a Met telecast of this wonderful opera from the late '70's with this cast, this conductor, I have been anxiously waiting for it to be released on DVD. The wait is over, and the disc not only lived up to my expectations, it surpassed them. Look at the names involved. Then imagine one of those classic Met productions, stage-filling but also finely detailed, where both time/place accuracy and adherence to the emotional and thematic nuances of the story are equally important. Then imagine this broadcast being restored to a level of video and audio perfection. You get the idea. If you are a fan of Luisa Miller, Verdi, the Met, James Levine or any of the great singers involved in this project, this is a must-own.
Luisa Miller has always been a favorite of mine, it is an often overlooked gem of an opera with gorgeous melodies caught in a tidal wave of ever-building dramatic intensity. With Luisa Miller, Verdi turned bel canto on its head, paving the way not only for his later, more complex music dramas, but also, with this opera's rustic setting, peasant characters and heightened melodrama, for the great verismo operas of Puccini et al. Granted, from a modern standpoint, the narrative can seem a little ridiculous at times, with people drawing swords and poisoning each other when things don't go their way, that is what I mean by heightened melodrama. Of mature Verdi operas, only Il Trovatore goes for this same level of bleeding romanticism and melodramatic gusto(well, maybe Forza should be included in that list as well). The story, based on a play by Friedrich Schiller, is pretty good, it has some traditional Verdian themes, a strong, endearing father/daughter relationship, politics interfering with personal lives and vice versa, corruption, parents destroying their children for their own selfish ends, etc., but the libretto itself is kind of silly, replete with laughably over-the-top dialogue and one-dimensional posturing. Hey, this is Italian opera. Part of Verdi's genius was his ability to take a libretto that was less than stellar, and populated by stock characters, and turn it into a fabulous opera, beautiful, melodic, evoking genuine feeling. Musically, Luisa Miller has that sort of engaging and forceful headlong rush toward tragedy that very few composers are able to achieve, and that counteracts any weaknesses in the narrative and showboating by the characters, in fact it drowns them out.
Luisa Miller is a great opera on its own, but a tremendous cast and a conductor who loves and understands Verdi can blast it into the stratosphere. Consider that the case here. Renata Scotto is one of the great Italian sopranos, not only for her voice but also for the emotional involvement she brings to every role. While she may not look like a naive peasant girl, she certainly sounds, and acts, like a woman in love, wounded by betrayal. Taking her curtain calls, she looks ready to collapse...that is real commitment. And her voice is the total package, she nails every trill as well as every dramatic passage. Placido Domingo looks kind of silly in a blonde wig, but his voice is in its prime, he has always been a Verdian tenor of the first order, possessing the requisite beauty and strength of voice and passion of character. He recognizes that Rodolfo, that crazy, id-driven romantic, is a borderline psychopath and he acts the role accordingly. Sherrill Milnes is Miller, his warm baritone voice, gushing with tenderness, brings out the necessary quality of paternal affection and concern, at no time is he anything less than convincing. James Morris, who recently sang the role of Walter at the Met, is the appropriately named Wurm, Morris' bleak, almost ghostly voice, is ideally suited for the soulless villain whose idea of love is total control. Bonaldo Giaiotti handles the other bass role, Count Walter, the more sympathetic villain, who seems to have genuine love for his son despite his mishandled way of showing it. I cannot stress this enough...all of these performances are vocally flawless, and the acting is so galvanized that it keeps the drama moving at an electric pace. Of course, James Levine's conducting is no small factor in achieving this pace. He appreciates the energy of Verdi, but he also finds the subtleties in the orchestration that not every conductor of pre-Rigoletto Verdi recognizes are there. He guides the Met orchestra through a dynamic reading of the prelude, one of the greatest, most intense orchestral passages Verdi ever wrote, but he is also very much a singer's conductor, doting on his performers during the course of the opera, allowing them to take each moment at their own speed. In a way he is like a Verdian father figure, passionate about his children but never relinquishing control, but with happier results. Such an attuned relationship between conductor and singers is a rare thing, and has to be seen to be appreciated.
Luisa Miller is an opera of darkness and light, the gaiety of village life contrasting with the brooding, oppressive machinations of the count and his ilk, and this production captures this dichotomy perfectly, from the sunny opening to the twilit conclusion. I was fortunate to see the Met's latest production of this opera make its world premiere a few years ago, it is a Dickensian setting that plays up the darkness at the expense of the light, and while it is a very good production, I think the opera needs that visual juxtaposition of opposite shadings to be totally successful, therefore I prefer this version.
I should probably quit before I ramble on too long. I've already made my point...this is a major asset to my DVD collection because every detail is handled with loving care and respect for the work. Isn't that a trademark of the Met at its best?
ANOTHER "LIVE FROM THE MET" GEM
Joseph Randolph Stewart | Springfield MO | 02/16/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Not to "ditto," Rush-Limbaugh-like, comments other have made, but I too have hoped for a commercial, well-mastered issue of this telecast ever since it was broadcast live on PBS on a Saturday night in January, 1979. I didn't own a video recorder at the time and recorded the audio track on a (barely adequate) cassette. The same cast appeared on the Met's radio matinee exactly a week later, which has been available (in stereo) on CD on semi-pirate labels like Gala and Myto. And it has its strong points, mainly that everybody sounds a bit more relaxed than they were on the live telecast a week earlier, and thus some of the singing is a bit smoother.
But I'll take the feverish excitement of the telecast any day--and say what you will about Renata Scotto's occasionally wiry top notes, the lady was always riveting to watch. Some commentators have suggested she looks too matronly here for the young Luisa--I just don't see it. Vocally she was perhaps just past her peak here, and just beginning a precipitous slide that would crash-land about three years later with a disasterous opening-night "Norma" where she was practically booed off the stage. But for my ears the voice holds together nicely in this performance, and she acts her heart out.
Speaking of "booing"... if you, like me, wondered why the Met never saw fit to release this telecast on home video, evidently they had to wait until digital video editing was sophisticated enough for them to remove a rather ugly little demonstration by an obnoxious audience member in Act One. When Scotto begins her first solo, some idiot (evidently put out with some comments Scotto had recently made about Maria Callas) screams out "Brava Maria Callas, soprano assoluta!!" You DON'T see it on this DVD because DG managed to edit it out somehow (perhaps with videotape shot for test purposes at a previous performance; they neither acknowledge nor explain the omission). If you're interested, do a search on You Tube for "Luisa Miller"--I believe the original clip can be seen there.
I have to agree that Domingo looks foolish in the blond wig, but my, he sings like a god here, all the way up to a clean high B natural--and no, this was NOT cleaned up or edited for the DVD. Love him as I do, he has a somewhat justified reputation for cracking on high notes. But not this night. "Quando le sere" in act two is vintage Placido: impassioned, sonorous, broadly phrased. The minute-long cheering ovation that greets him is nearly as thrilling as his singing. Even as early as the 1978-79 season Milnes was, like Scotto, on the downward slope of his vocal prime, but he often sings thrillingly here. Bonaldo Giaiotti is in characteristically rich, if rather wooly, voice as Count Walter, and his plotting and scheming with Wurm is truly terrifying. Wurm, in the person of the young James Morris, is suitably creepy and oily. It's not exactly a showcase role vocally for a bass, but Morris has charisma galore. The supporting cast of Met regulars is perhaps less glamorous-- Jean Kraft looks more like Placido's mother than a childhood girlfriend--but they fit well into the production. Levine was still in his "young firebrand on the podium" period at this time, and his conducting, right from the overture, has an exciting, stylish Toscanini-like drive and thrust. The Met Orchestra wasn't as yet the virtuoso body they eventually became, but the playing is spirited.
The Scotto-heckler wasn't the only thing DG has edited here. This being a live telecast, the Met's radio announcer Peter Allen performed his customary job of commenting on the curtain calls and intro'ing the station breaks. Evidently the original stereo soundtrack was a very basic two-track job; DG no doubt wanted to eliminate Allen's live announcements for the purposes of home video, and since they couldn't simply remove them, they just dubbed over them... with "canned" applause... specifically, isolated "bravos" from the Domingo ovation in act two! Frankly, I almost wish they had eliminated the end-of-act curtain calls altogether, just a quick fade at the curtain. But I do understand why they did it. The camera work is a bit erratic (this was live-to-air, remember), and the video technology of 1979 isn't the last word in clarity; neither is the sound, which strikes me as too distant and echoey at times. (PBS would get much better at live audio as the "Live from the Met" series went on.) These same comments apply to the Met "Rigoletto" and "Boheme," both from 1977 and released along with this "Luisa Miller" by DG. But that doesn't make them any less essential. Highly recommended."
Robert B. Cutaiar | Kennett Square, Pa. USA | 01/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This has long been a favorite production - I became enamored with it way back in April, 1979 when it was shown on PBS. I have an old, very crude copy of it on a Beta Tape from the time it was broadcast. I was very pleased to see it released on DVD. Aside from the singers being much older today, the opera is very clean and fresh looking.
The music (for those that know this Opera) is positively rivoting and beautiful. It's amazing that this was dropped from the Met repetoire after the 1929 season but was resumed, I believe, in the late sixties.
Beautifully done here. Amended 6/8/09"