Luisa Miller, Opera by G. Verdi
Luisa Miller was not born under the most auspicious circumstances. Always the political activist and patriot, Giuseppe Verdi had meant to create a revolutionary piece to mirror the Italian uprisings of 1848, but Naples’ establishment and its censors had none of it. Frustrated, the great composer and librettist Salvatore Cammarano had to make a complete U-turn and chose an entirely unpolitical subject: convoluted love and family ties, paired with dynastic intrigue, courtesy of the play Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love) by Friedrich Schiller. Against the odds, Luisa Miller turned out to be an effective tragic opera, as audiences at Rome’s Teatro Costanzi will surely experience.
The harshness of the Neapolitan censors frustrated Verdi to such an extent that he never produced another opera in the city. To ensure the work’s acceptance, Cammarano stripped away all the political and social commentary that was inherent to Schiller’s original text and focussed instead on the familial and romantic relationships. As if to channel his dissatisfaction with the lack of creative control over his own work, Verdi composed some of his most incendiary and emotional arias and duets. What the censors could not touch was the composer’s inventive and powerful score, which made Luisa Miller an opera favourite ever since its premiere on 8 December 1849 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.
Deception, love and court intrigue drive the plot of the opera. Count Walter’s son, Rodolfo, poses as Carlo and starts a relationship with Luisa Miller. The two families’ patriarchs strongly disapprove of the young people’s union. The Count arrests the Millers, but an angry Rodolfo threatens to make public a dark secret of his that would cost him his throne unless Luisa is released. Walter must comply, but he is adamant about executing the old Miller. As a loving daughter, Luisa cannot allow that. The tragedy reaches a shocking and devastating climax, which Verdi’s inspired music accompanies marvellously.