|Sarah Mikulski, Joshua Arky, Brian Michael Moore, Young Kwang Yoo, Maestro Thomas Muraco, Yulan Piao, Woo Yong Yoon, Edwin Davis, and Ü Lee|
One doesn't generally get to hear a Verdi opera at a music conservatory, but last night we were fortunate enough to hear Luisa Miller at Manhattan School of Music. Presenting a Verdi opera with such a young cast was a risky enterprise but the risk paid off in spades. The evening was a stunning success with first rate musical values.
The opera had its premiere in 1849, thus belonging to the earlier portion of Verdi's "middle period", before his success with Rigoletto. The libretto by Salvadore Cammarano was based on Friedrich von Schiller's play Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love). It is not part of the standard repertory but we admire it greatly. Like so many operas composed by Verdi, there is a strong emphasis on a father/daughter relationship.
The two fathers could not be more different, but they share one important feature. Each loves his child and wants the best for him/her. Miller want his daughter to be happy and his only concern is whether the man to whom she pledged her love will be honest and faithful. The Count de Walter wants his son to be privileged and powerful. He has chosen Rodolfo's bride--The Duchess Federica, and will stop at nothing to tear his son away from Luisa, Miller's daughter.
The opera is overflowing with gorgeous melodies. There are arias aplenty and duets for all possible fach combinations, plus stunning trios and quartets to bring the acts to a close. As the innocent Luisa, soprano Yulan Piao sang with terrific technique and enough dramatic intensity to get us to care about her character. She has a brilliant instrument and fine Italianate phrasing. The coloratura was so impressive we were thinking "There's a budding Queen of the Night!"
As her lover Rodolfo, Woo Yong Yoon was ardent and used his lyric tenor well, without any of the pushing that bothers us so much in young tenors. His love duets with Ms. Piao were marked by singular harmonic beauty.
As the Duchess that Count de Walter wants his son to marry, mezzo-soprano Ü Lee was resplendent both vocally and dramatically. Her rich chocolate instrument was employed to great dramatic effect as she created a multi-dimensional character--a woman who has loved Rodolfo since childhood and is suffering a major disappointment that he loves another woman, and yet not at all vengeful toward her rival. The facial expressions and gestures she used as she went through a panoply of emotions were arresting; one could not take one's eyes off her. This gifted artist is also a coach, conductor, pianist, and composer. Additionally she is developing music software. She is an alumna of MSM, while the other artists are all graduate students.
We were also impressed by baritone Young Kwang Yoo who played Miller, the devoted caring father of Luisa. Their duets were no less fine than those of Gilda and Rigoletto. He has a nice full baritone and an effective stage presence.
As Walter, the sneaky manipulative and threatening father of Rodolfo, bass Joshua Arky showed admirable vocal flexibility for this fach. The only thing that would take his performance to the next level would be some physical flexibility. Even a character we hate has to move around the stage with grace.
As the nasty henchman Wurm, bass Edwin Davis succeeded in creating one of those characters one loves to hate. His bass has a juicier sound than Mr. Arky's and the contrast between the two basses was one of those casting miracles that we love.
Soprano Sarah Mikulski sounded lovely in the small role of Laura and Brian Michael Moore stepped in for an ailing Timothy Lanigan in the other small role of Un Contadino. Please note that the casting for Friday night is different and that Mr. Moore will be singing Rodolfo--ensuring that the experience will be as fine as last night's was.
Maestro Thomas Muraco did a fine job of preparing these young artists for the performance. The maestro conducts with his expressive hands and one can observe him breathing along and silently singing along with them. The score was arranged for two pianos four hands (Jeremy Chan and Jonathan Heaney) with parts taken by the keyboard (Jia Jun Hong doing the organ stuff) and clarinet (Adam Gallob). The melodic lines given to the clarinet were wonderfully played.
The chorus sang well. There was no attempt at costuming or sets. They would have been superfluous. The evening was about the music and we consider it a 100% success. You have one chance to experience this rare treat on Friday night at 7:30, IF you can get tickets. Last night the standby line stretched all the way down the hall. Word must have gotten out!
(c) meche kroop