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Verdi: Luisa Miller / Schippers, Caballe, Tucker, Milnes, Metropolitan Opera

Release Date: 01/17/2012 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 190994  
Composer:  Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Richard TuckerEzio FlagelloSherrill MilnesGiorgio Tozzi,   ... 
Conductor:  Thomas Schippers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera ChorusMetropolitan Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

VERDI Luisa Miller Thomas Schippers,cond; Montserrat Caballé ( Luisa ); Richard Tucker ( Rodolfo ); Sherrill Milnes ( Miller ); Giorgio Tozzi ( Walter ); Ezio Flagello ( Wurm ); Metropolitan Opera Ch and O SONY 88691 90994 2 (2 CDs 130:00) Read more

I find it difficult to choose a favorite among the three most notable studio recordings of Luisa Miller— conducted by Cleva (RCA), Maag (Decca), and Maazel (DG)—because each is very strongly cast and well conducted. This Met performance from 1968 now joins them as a desirable recording of the opera. Like most of the other Met broadcasts being newly issued by Sony at a budget price, it has been previously available on at least two other labels, Living Stage and Nuovo Era. The sound is typical for a broadcast of its time and I’m not bothered by it.

Having not heard the performance before, I was skeptical as to whether Tucker, who had been singing at the Met since 1945, could handle the difficult role of Rodolfo 23 years later. Though there’s no question that we are listening to an older tenor, I find much to enjoy in his singing. The strengths and shortcomings of his performance of the aria “Quando la sere placido” exemplify the performance as a whole. His attempt at holding the last note fails, but that moment of strain is mitigated by the eloquent way that he sings the quiet opening phrases of each verse. Compared to the more elegant Bergonzi (RCA), or the fluency of Pavarotti in his prime (Decca), one hears some limitation in tone and breath control, but there’s an endearing sense of a great singer delivering a performance with a kind of musical and technical conviction that has become rare indeed.   

Caballé and Milnes give much the same performances as on the 1975 Decca recording, which is to say that both are splendid. Both sound slightly more engaged and exciting in the live version. Milnes, along with Cornell MacNeil, was the last in the great succession of American Verdi baritones, and, as Miller, he offers singing of a kind that is no longer heard at the Met. The high point of Caballe’s performance, which is generally dazzling and finely controlled, comes in the opening scene of act II, where she is joined by Ezio Flagello whose unctuous bass is ideally suited to the role of Wurm. Her virtuosity in the aria “Tu puniscimi, o Signore” is a marvel. Giorgio Tozzi sings opulently in the generic role of Count Walter and both he and Flagello are superior to their counterparts on the Decca recording. The mezzo Louise Pearl, an unknown in a cast of stars, handles the role of the Duchess reasonably well, though on RCA Shirley Verrett is in another class altogether.

Luisa Miller seems to bring out the best in its conductors. The under-recorded Peter Maag, whose recordings of Mozart and Mendelssohn are classics, seems to have had a special affinity for Verdi and it is for his insights that I return to the Decca recording, but Fausto Cleva, a Met routinier , rises to the occasion of conducting this beautiful, somewhat overlooked score and leads a very Met-oriented cast on RCA in what may be a better vocal performance overall. Moffo and Bergonzi’s characterizations are less generalized than those of Caballé and Pavarotti.

Thomas Schippers was an expert Verdi conductor and his leadership has precision and energy, if not the contrasting moments of repose or instrumental color that the studio versions provide. 1968 predates the Met orchestra’s Levine era and it was far less flexible or refined an ensemble than it would become a decade later but by then, it was less possible to cast Luisa Miller or almost any Verdi opera as strongly as in the ’50s or ’60s. Sony’s reissues of Verdi operas in this series rightly concentrate on that period.

FANFARE: Paul Orgel
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Works on This Recording

Luisa Miller by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Richard Tucker (Tenor), Ezio Flagello (Bass), Sherrill Milnes (Baritone),
Giorgio Tozzi (Bass), Nancy Williams (Mezzo Soprano), Montserrat Caballé (Soprano),
Louise Pearl (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Thomas Schippers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera Chorus,  Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1849; Italy 

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