Just how coercive a loving father is allowed to be is perhaps the central issue of Schiller’s 1784 play Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love), on which Verdi’s opera Luisa Miller is based. While the Miller’s love for his daughter, Luisa, causes him to be over-protective, denying her the man of her choice, that man, Rodolfo, also has a father, Count Walter, who similarly seeks to thwart the marriage on the grounds that he has a better match for him.
Schiller’s play, written at a time when a younger generation was beginning to assert its rights over marital choice, is powerfully charged not least because the patriarchs (especially the Miller) believe themselves to be acting in their offspring’s best interests. Yet the young lovers, driven to act desperately, are doomed precisely by those imperatives.
Verdi, always in his element where paternal sentiment is concerned, responded with an opera that no less movingly sets family tragedy against a socio-political backdrop. It’s not one of his more frequently performed works – though it was given successfully at ENO only last year – but fully deserves a place alongside other middle-period operas such as Rigoletto and Il Trovatore.
Christof Loy’s new production, oddly like Barbara Horakova’s for ENO, sets the action (designed by Johannes Leiacker) in a fierce white geometrical space (lit starkly by Olaf Winter), the oppressive nature of which is only intensified in the last act when windows on one wall are replaced by a huge black slab. Truth (of the socio-political kind) rather than beauty is the order of the day and props are minimal.
Close personal interaction – let alone embraces – are off the agenda thanks to Covid, but this is very much the Loy style anyway. His semi-abstracted gestural direction makes its points obliquely, but sometimes tellingly. In Rodolfo’s set-piece solo in Act 2, lamenting Luisa’s apparent betrayal, we see Luisa, crumpled at the rear, with her rival, the Duchess, also presented as in Rodolfo’s imagination. The Duchess leaves, to return in a bridal dress, while Luisa reappears in a nightgown – but for Rodolfo’s rival, Wurm. It’s a terrific curtain.
The production is strongly cast, with an affecting Luisa (Mané Galoyan) and a suitably anguished Miller (Vladislav Sulimsky). Charles Castronovo brings heartfelt passion to the role of Rodolfo, while Evgeny Stavinsky supplies an authentically dark Verdian bass. Nadezhda Karyazina makes an arresting entrance as the Duchess and commands the stage, both vocally and dramatically, whenever she’s on it. Krzysztof Baczyk’s enigmatic Wurm is finely sung. The score, in an orchestral reduction by Tony Burke, is conducted with the subtlety and sensitivity it deserves by Enrique Mazzola.
To Aug 29; glyndebourne.com