San Francisco Opera’s “Luisa Miller” closes with a stand-out performance from tenor Michael Fabiano
At San Francisco Opera’s (SFO) Sunday matinee performance of Verdi’s Luisa Miller, all eyes and ears were on tenor Michael Fabiano and rightly so─his Rodolfo was inspired, powerful. The tall, dashing 30 year-old embodied the aristocrat loved by two women, the son who defies his father and the unwitting pawn in a political intrigue that leads to murder. How trilling to behold a young singer nail a performance and to find yourself rising to your feet, whopping and whistling for him out of pure joy, knowing in your bones that you have just witnessed one of the great tenors in opera. Fabiano, 30, is the recipient of the 2014 Richard Tucker Award and the 2014 Beverly Sills Award, the first person in history to win both awards in one year.
Sharing the glory was young soprano Leah Crocetto, in the title role, alum of the Adler and Merola programs, who sang beautifully as well. Actually it’s a match that’s been in the works for some time─ Crocetto and Fabiano sang Mimi and Rodolfo in SFO’s La Bohème in 2014 but never sang together as they were in separate casts. Each garnered great reviews. Fabiano went on to sing Rodolfo at the Metropolitan Opera House in December, garnering global attention there as well as at La Scala and the Glyndebourne Festival. It was thus no surprise to see a few people in the audience on Sunday who had attended the gala season-opening performance and were back for a final dose of this rare, luscious singing.
The 1849 opera, Verdi’s 15th, is based on Schiller’s play “Kabale and Liebe.” The plot is insanely unrealistic─Luisa Miller, a commoner, is in love with Carlo, who is really Rodolfo, the son of the local Count, Walter. Luisa’s protective father distrusts Carlo and schemes behind her back to have her marry Wurm, who works for the Count. When Wurm (whose name translates appropriately as “Worm”) tells the count that his son is in love with a commoner, the Count orders Rodolfo to marry the recently widowed duchess, Federica who is in the good graces of the Imperial Court. The rest of the opera revolves around political intrigue, deception and heartbreak and culminates in multiple deaths─Wurm by gunshot and Rodolfo and Luisa by poisoning, just after the truth of their abiding love is revealed, but too late as the poison has been drunk.
Soprano Leah Crocetto sang beautifully, consistently hitting the notes this demanding role calls for while evoking the emotional roller coaster that innocent young Luisa is subject to. She soared in her Act II, aria “Te puniscimi, O Signore” which was pulsing with feeling as she expressed being torn between her love for Rodolfo and her father. And right after Fabiano brought down the house with his exquisite Act II aria, “Quando le Sere al Placido,” it was as if she too got a boost from the fumes and came out singing with renewed fire.
Russian mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk has an intrinsically lush, full voice and her SF Opera debut as the widowed duchess, Federica, was enchanting. It was particularly amusing when she made her entrance drawn in on an enormous horse statue replete with its clunky pedestal, as if it had been dragged there from a European park. To dismount she had to be lifted down by another cast member. Her singing was nimble and spot-on, from her Act I aria, “Duchessa Duchessa tu m’appelli,” and duet, “Dall aule raggianti di vano,” with Rodolfo to her Act II recitatives.
Baritone Vitaliy Bilyy as Miller, who has also sung the role at Milan’s La Scala, made his SFO debut and was impressive. Bass baritone Daniel Sumegi sang Count Walter and imbued him with an appropriately dark character. The great irony of the opera is that the Count, who conspires to entrap Luisa and her father, ultimately ensnares his own beloved son.
Bass Andrea Silvestrelli sang wonderfully but could have imbued his bland Wurm with even more despicability. Second year Adler Fellow, soprano Jacqueline Piccolino was impressive as the village girl Laura, whose Act I “Tidesta, Luisa” (sung with the chorus) immediately caught our attention. Her Act III “O Dolce Amica, E Ristorar Non Vuoi,” sung with Lusia and the chorus, again made an impression.
When SFO Music Director, Nicola Luisotti, comes to the podium, and it’s Verdi, one always has the sense that great things are in the pipeline. It’s amazing how time flies too. He made his SFO debut in 2005, conducting “La Forza del Destino,” and has been director since 2009.
He started the overture at a healthy clip, as he is prone to do, but, throughout the afternoon, brought the delicacy out in the scoring as well the drama, passion, and color that Verdi infused this score with. The clarinet solo in the overture and horns calls further enlivened the music. The SFO chorus sang masterfully throughout, starting out as a chorus of simple country folk singing repeating melodies that were expressive and catchy.
The production, a 2000 revival by Francesca Zambello, which I had not seen before, intrigued me, particularly Michael Yeargan’s gorgeous sets. They included a painted surround backdrop of a dense forest which changed colors, and several very large paintings─ a rustic farmhouse for Miller’s house, an elegant tapestry featuring a hunting scene with leaping hounds for Walter’s castle and, for Act II, a gray honeycomb pattern evoking metal mesh─all suspended from a distracting metal arm that hung over the stage for the duration of the opera.
Dunya Ramicova’s costumes were predictable─the villagers wore peasant costumes; the nobles were elegant in fitted red velvet coats and dresses for the hunt; Rodolfo and Wurm were fitted in green and the count wore an elegant black coat with a white ruffled shirt. The fitted waists and abundance of fabric in the skirts of Crocetto’s and Semenchuk’s period gowns did nothing to flatter their rounder figures.
Details: There are no remaining performances of Luisa Miller. For information about the SFO’s 2015-16 season, for which you can still catch all but Luisa Miller, click here. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.
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