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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Luisa Miller (1849) [157:40]
Darina Takova (sop) Ė Luisa
Giuseppe Sabbatini (tenor) Ė Rodolfo
Alexander Vinogradov (bass) Ė Walter
Damiano Salerno (bar) Ė Miller
Ursula Ferri (mezzo) Ė Federica
Arutjun Kotchinian (bass) Ė Wurm
Elisabetta Martorana (sop) Ė Laura
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro La Fenice, Venice/Maurizio Benini
Director: Arnaud Bernard
Sets: Alessandro Camera
rec. live, La Fenice, May 2006
No Region Coding, Aspect Ratio 16:9, Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, Dolby Surround 5.0
NAXOS 2.110225-26 [2 DVDs: 108:20 + 49:20]
Experience Classicsonline

Donít be put off by the front cover of this DVD. At first glance the costumes and misty infinity of the stage may give the impression that this Luisa Miller is set after a nuclear holocaust. Rest assured that it isnít and that the result is well worth exploring.
One of the lesser known hits of Verdiís middle period, Luisa Miller is often criticised for its slightly staid plot, particularly in the almost stagnant last act; but musically thereís a lot to enjoy, and this performance from La Fenice shows that admirably.
The setting is quite minimalist so thereís little to distract from the drama. For most scenes the characters are hermetically sealed into what looks like a cube through whose fourth wall we are watching. At times all the walls rise up together and are removed, creating an illusion of outside space (this works particularly well at the chorusí entry in the final scene) and at times they are mixed, showing a chink of light penetrating from outside. There is very little furniture (a billiard table for the Countís Drawing Room, a kitchen table for Millerís house): instead every scene has a very tall but thin monolith displaying a resonant image to go with that scene (a field for the first scene, a woman with her back turned representing Luisaís shame for Act 2, Scene 2). They donít really add very much, but they donít get in the way, and for that we must be grateful. The period of the opera is suggested by the costumes which, for the peasant farmers at any rate, suggest Eastern Europe under Communism, appropriate enough for a tale of the elite abusing its power. The Count and Duchess dress in ostentatious finery while the peasants wear plain costumes, the women all sporting head scarves. This makes the production timeless enough and, while it wonít win any prizes, it isnít distracting.
The performances themselves are very good. The productionís secret weapon is the Bulgarian soprano Darina Takova. I hadnít come across her before but I was really impressed by her singing. All the notes are there, showing ripeness of tone at the top of the voice as well as a lustrous middle register. She displays absolutely flawless coloratura in her first aria and again, impressively, while lying on her back in the first stages of delirium in the final scene. One to watch out for in the future. The three basses are well contrasted. Damiano Salerno is a young, heroic Miller, his voice displaying a real golden quality, particularly in his duets with his daughter. He makes one regret that he is entirely absent from the middle act. Alexander Vinogradov, plastered in make-up to make him seem much older than he really is, radiates dark authority as the Count. Arutjun Kotchinian as Wurm certainly possesses a dark colour which matches the partís villainy, though there are times when the gritty tone takes over from the musicality which should always be paramount. Ursula Ferri has a real sit-up-and-take-notice quality to her rich, dark mezzo. Her lowest notes are entirely secure and she seems to touch on contralto territory in her duet with Rodolfo. The cameo role of Laura is also well taken. The only doubt rests over the setís only star name: Giuseppe Sabbatini. His larger than life persona is appropriate enough for Rodolfo and most of the time his tone and voice are there. Too often, however, he attacks the note from beneath, and his great aria Quando le sere al placido, isnít nearly as golden as it should be. Heís perfectly adequate if youíre prepared to overlook this, but he isnít a good enough reason to buy this set.
The playing of the Fenice orchestra is predictably fine, and the engineers catch them well so that they never swamp the singers but equally are always clear. The sound picks them up very well too, with a good sense of placing: in the overture it is clear which sections are sitting where, especially if youíre listening in DTS. Maurizio Benini keeps up the pace but isnít afraid to broaden out for the big moments, especially the final duet. The opening shots of Venice and the interior of the theatre are pretty enough but inconsequential.
All told, then, this is a fine, if not outstanding DVD Luisa Miller. It probably doesnít quite replace Levineís DVD from the Met (featuring Scotto, Domingo and Milnes). Itís not great value for money either considering that it (needlessly) takes up 2 DVDs, thus doubling its cost compared to the DG set. These things aside, though, itís a perfectly satisfying edition. Camera work is perfectly sensible throughout, and the picture and sound are both admirably clear.
Simon Thompson


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