Lyric Opera Presents LUISA MILLER Review – Bel Canto Enlivened by Shadows, a RECOMMENDED Verdi opera not typically performed
Russian mezzo-soprano Alisa Kolosova arrives on a horse statue --one leg up, as if signaling a wound. She is the soon-to-be-spurned Federica, Duchess of Ostheim. Before her entrance, we see an equestrian-garbed crowd, frozen in the background. Lighting Designer Mark McCullough has transformed this ensemble-- crop gripping, top hat wearing-- into 2D silhouettes. It is one of many uses of light to create silhouettes and shadows that make this aspect of the Luisa Miller production the star of the show, by this writer’s lights. We might already think that the music Verdi gives bass Soloman Howard to sing defines his character Wurm as the bad guy. But it’s McCullough’s touch to show Wurm as a threatening larger than life shadow looming over beleaguered Luisa (Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova). This lighting touch says who he is, ,just as loudly as his booming voice. You get to see these shadow clues throughout.
Truth to tell, while the visual lighting highlights are informative, the story in this opera is actually very straightforward. The set up is not unlike Giselle. A disguised royal (Rodolfo, tenor Joseph Calleja) has fallen in love with a country girl, Luisa. Luisa reciprocates the feeling. A disapproving royal parent has other plans for their child’s marriage. In this case, the disapproving parent is the wicked Count Walter. He also has a bass voice, and this voice is Christian Van Horn! Bad guy Wurm and the Count force Luisa to renounce her love in order to save her father (baritone Quinn Kelsey). Meanwhile Rodolfo thinks he has been betrayed by Luisa. This leads to their shared death by poison, but not before he sticks it—quite literally --to bad guy Wurm.
No happily ever after here!
Yet, despite the dark, dark story, in typical Verdi bel canto fashion, the non-Italian speaker might be hearing beautiful arias, duets, and trios, and mistakenly think it’s about spring flowers and the merry month of May. Actually these beautiful songs are relaying the turmoil or torment told by the story.
Beautiful singing it is!
Beautiful orchestral music it is too, including a clarinet motif weaved throughout. It is conducted by the newly announced music director designate, cheerful Enrique Mazzola. On opening night, Mazzola came to talk to those of us who came to the highly recommended pre-concert lecture. This reviewer can report he is one heckuva charming value-add for the Lyric!
Lyric Opera Assembles Amazing Vocal Talents
As with most Lyric performances, you too may be hard put to find a favorite performer. These are stellar talents—all! This writer though, feels compelled to give a special shout out to tenor Joseph Calleja. He is the romantic lead. On opening night, he seemed to lose his voice for a few notes, likely a casualty of the sudden wintry chill that had overtaken Chicago. Calleja’s voice is soothingly tenor sweet. We noted how he simply modulated his volume a tad, after that vocal dustup. It was truly stirring. It was hard not to love him.
The good news/bad news about Lyric’s Luisa Miller, is that there seemed to be an unusually high number of empty seats in the audience. It might have been because the aforementioned wintry snap on the city kept some indoors. More likely, it’s because this Verdi opera is lesser known. Though melodic to the max, this opera doesn’t have any songs that are part of Operas Greatest Hits, Bel Canto Greatest Hits, or Verdi Greatest Hits. That means-- this is potentially an opportunity for anyone who wants to hear opera greats up closer with better seats! At the time of this writing, there were half-price tickets available at Hot Tix.
Run, run, run—get them while you can.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
New-to-Chicago Production | Opera in three acts in Italian Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, based on the play Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love) by Friedrich von Schiller
Kathleen Felty, Quinn Kelsey ,Krassimira Stoyanova, Joseph Calleja, Soloman Howard, Christian Van Horn, Alisa Kolosova, Hoss Brock, Jacob Bates, Erik Dohner,Nicolas Harazin, Bobby Wilhelmson,Kai Young
Directed by Francesca Zambello,
Set designs by Michael Yeargan,
Traditional-period costume designs by Dunya Ramicova,
and dramatic lighting design by Mark McCullough.
Lyric’s chorus master is Michael Black,
and August Tye is the choreographer for this presentation.
Thru October 31, 2019
Lyric Opera House
20 N. Wacker Dr.
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.