Premiering on December 8th, 1849, “Luisa Miller” is the 15th opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi. Originally, Verdi was interested in adapting the novel “The Siege of Florence” by Francesco Domenico Guerazzi, but the censors in Naples had rejected this idea. Verdi would then try for an adaptation of “Kabale und Liebe” by the German playwright Friedrich von Schiller, a title which translates to “Intrigue and Love.” These themes, as explored through the eyes of the upper class, would later influence one of Verdi’s most enduring works, namely “La Traviata.”
Short Plot Summary
The opera begins as a crowd gathers to sing for the birthday celebration of Luisa, daughter of Miller, a retired soldier. Within the crowd, Luisa looks for Carlo, a young man with whom she is in love. Miller disapproves of Carlo, believing him to be a stranger. After a duet between Luisa and Carlo, Miller is greeted by Wurm, a courtier who desires Luisa’s hand in marriage. When Miller asserts that he will honor Luisa’s decision on whom she will marry, Wurm reveals that Carlo is in fact Rodolfo, son of Count Walter. When Wurm reveals to Count Walter his son’s intentions, the count summons Rodolfo and explains that he is meant to wed Federica, who is Duchess of Ostheim as well as Rodolfo’s cousin. Later, after Miller informs his daughter of Rodolfo’s identity, the young suitor returns to Luisa and pleads the sincerity of his love. Count Walter soon arrives on the scene, ordering for Miller and Luisa to be arrested; only by threatening his father with exposing how he became count, by killing his cousin, does Rodolfo manage to secure Luisa’s freedom.
Wurm later arrives at the Miller home with an ultimatum for Luisa: her father is sentenced to execution but may be spared if Luisa will write a letter declaring her love for Wurm and admitting to manipulating Rodolfo. Luisa complies, her heart torn by the decision she has made. When the contents of Luisa’s letter are confirmed in the court, Rodolfo challenges Wurm to a duel, but the courtier fires a pistol to hastily summon the Count and his servants. When Count Walter encourages his son to marry Federica, Rodolfo resigns himself to whatever fate holds in store.
While Luisa is now reunited with her father, she plans to take her own life over what she has done to Rodolfo, who enters the house unseen and poisons the water jug nearby. He asks Luisa for the truth concerning the letter and Luisa confirms that the words were her own, prompting Rodolfo to drink a cup of water which he has Luisa share. When he reveals that their fate is sealed, Luisa reveals the truth of her love for Rodolfo. Luisa dies shortly before Count Walter and Wurm enter, and with his last ounce of strength Rodolfo pierces Wurm’s heart with his sword, avenging his death and that of his Luisa.
Famous Musical Moments
Rodolfo’s “Quando la sere al placido” is undeniably the musical celebrity from thus work, frequently performed by tenors at concerts and recitals.
But the leading lady gets her major moments, none more fascinating than the duets with Miller and the entire sequence that concludes the opera. It is some of Verdi’s most violent and heartfelt music.
Watch and Listen
This recording might just be one of the finest in history, featuring Katia Ricciarelli, Plácido Domingo, and Renato Bruson.