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Luisa Miller Hightlights this week on The Lyric Stage

Luisa Miller is one of the last opera of Giuseppe Verdi's early period, a time in his life he called his galley years, a time of development that led to his breakthrough with the threesome of Rigoletto,  La Traviata and Il Trovatore shortly after the premiere of Luisa Miller.

But to describe those early years of Verdi's composition as a time of development or to use his own term "the galley years" is to risk underating these early operas. Luisa Miller is a wonderful opera.

With a libretto by Salvadore Cammarano based on a play by Schiller, Luisa Miller tells the story of the son of the Count Walter, Rodolfo, and his arranged marriage to his duchess cousin.  However, he loves the poor country girl from the village, Luisa Miller, and disguises himself as a peasant in order to be with her.  When his father the Count finds out, great lengths are taken to prevent the young lovers from being together. Lies and deceit abound and love is lost.  Rodolfo thinks Luisa has betrayed him, so he tricks her and they drink poison, and then die together, but not before he realizes that her fidelity never wavered.

The recording of Luisa Miller we have for this program is from 1964 and features Anna Moffo, Carlo Bergonzi, Shirley Verret, Cornel MacNeil and Georgi Tozzi, with Fausto Cleva conducting the RCA Italiana Opera orchestra and chorus.

Fausto Cleva was active as a conductor from the 1930's until his death in 1971. He trained in his native Milan, and came to America in 1920, becoming a citizen of the US in 1931, the same year he joined the musical staff of the Metroplitan as an assistant conductor - meaning he probably played the piano for rehearsals. He later was chorus master at the Met and also served as a coach for singers. In the hierarchal world of an opera company Chorus Master is not necessarily a prestige position, and few chorus masters were able to move up that hierarchy, but Cleva did, making his official conducting debut in 1942. But it was not until he left the Met and established his reputation in Chicago and as the director of the Cincinatti summer Opera that he was able to gain full respect as a conductor at the Met, returning in 1950. Over the next 20 years until his death in 1971 he conducted over 700 performances of thirty operas, mostly from the French and Italian repertoire. His recordings besides Luisa Miller include a Tosca with Maria Callas, and La Wally with Renata Tebaldi, and numerous recordings as an accompanist for singers.

Mike Harrah is host of The Lyric Stage, which airs Sundays at 8 pm.