Arts Review: Luisa Miller – Opera Australia (performances until 29th Feb)

Luisa Miller is a lesser known earlier opera of Verdi, it’s name perhaps less extravagant then his La Traviata, Don Carlos or Aida, but in its musical telling are far more applicable characters and a genuinely beautiful yet tragic tale of love.

This production by Opera Australia is a co-production with Opera de Lausanne of Switzerland, that brings with it a darkly striking set. Covering almost the entirety of the Joan Sutherland stage is a raised platform of sleek reflective black. Upon this platform are marble-like figures. A woman seated in an armchair surrounded by children. A man at her back. Across from them a man moves from behind the piano forte. The overture starts and suddenly the entire platform is sliding backwards towards the shadows, reaching towards the back of the stage until it begins to move upwards! Slanting itself vertically as we see the conductor and orchestra pit reflected on its glossy surface. The platform continues along its path, tipping itself completely upside down to be hanging topsy turvy from the ceiling. What an opening!

The staging takes its cue from this minimalistic approach, the platform continuing as the only set and the performers dressed in similarly monochromatic 1930s costumes. Save for a few years and symbolic flowers there is equally minimal use of props. I never felt that this made the opera empty, although my company mentioned that he felt the simplicity of the set made the time and place obscure. I do agree with him but for me it wasn’t so important for this story.

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For there is such an emphasis on characters in this opera! The main cast is fairly small, indeed limited to five individuals, so you are really able to form a relationship with them. Although they are just as foolish and seemingly ill-equipped at making any logical decision as opera characters are want to be, there is a lot more room to feel for them then in most operas. Rather than relying on any single sweeping aria or any jarringly arousing moment Luisa Miller finds its power in closely following and unfolding its characters intimately. These moments keenly reflected in a surprising lack of any music accompaniment.

The most foolish of these characters are perhaps the fathers, both who are prepared to make sacrifices for the happiness of their children in their own way but whose unyielding methods of love prove to be the ultimate undoing of their children. Both Dalibor Jenis and Raymond Aceto are admirable in their roles, each performing solo pieces with compelling force.

Diego Torre is as always such a strong voice in his operas. It never falters (even when being voiced laying upside down struggling to breath) and his presence brings such a power to moments such as Rodolfo’s solo ‘Quando le sere al placido’.

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But boy, Nicole Car! What perfection! Her voice is simply stunning. It is common to say that a voice “soars” out into the audience but it is such an accurate description for hers that I must use it. For her voice soars above all others as she joins with the full cast singing “her grief is heartbreaking” (enough to raise goosebumps). The feeling that she pours into each note is clearly reflected on stage through her facial and body language- from the childlike girl in love to the disturbingly calm woman determined to die.

This is a beautiful opera that allows you to connect with its characters and provides you the time to appreciate Verdi’s work musically. And with being not so frequently performed, one really needs to take this opportunity to see it in such a strikingly staged form.

Luisa Miller will be playing at the Sydney Opera House until the 29th February. For more information visit www.opera.org.au

The reviewer attended the opening night performance on the 11th February.

Photo credit (c) Prudence Upton

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