Verdi’s Luisa Miller

Event: Verdi’s Luisa Miller
Date: April 14, 2018, 12:30 pm
Run Time: 3 hours 38 minutes
Ticket Info: Tickets available at the door and online

Tickets for Luisa Millerper adult • $22.00 online

Tickets for Luisa Millerper student • $11.00 online


Tyrol, early 1700s. Luisa, daughter of an old soldier, is in love with a young man she knows as Carlo but who is actually Rodolfo, son of the local lord, Walter. The two lovers proclaim undying fidelity, but Miller, Luisa’s father, is dubious, and his fears are confirmed when Walter’s retainer, Wurm, who also loves Luisa and hopes to marry her, reveals Rodolfo’s true identity.

In Walter’s castle, Wurm tells his master of Rodolfo’s love for Luisa. Walter resolves to end their relationship, because he hopes to have his son marry a widowed duchess, Federica. Left alone with her, Rodolfo reveals that he loves another, but the duchess, who has worshiped him since childhood, refuses to break their engagement.

At home, Miller tells Luisa that Rodolfo has deceived her and is about to contract a wealthy marriage. The young man, however, comes to plead his sincerity. When Walter storms in shortly afterward and is about to have both Luisa and her father consigned to prison, Rodolfo secures their freedom by threatening to reveal how his father, with Wurm’s assistance, murdered his cousin to gain his present position.

Luisa learns that her father has been jailed for insulting Walter. Wurm tells her the only way she can save Miller is to write a letter admitting she sought Rodolfo for his wealth, and pledging herself to Wurm. After doing his bidding, she learns she must go to the castle and declare her love for him before the duchess.

Wurm presents Luisa’s letter to Walter, and the two plot to send it to Rodolfo. Wurm then brings in Luisa. Goaded on with threats by Wurm and Walter against her father, she professes her love for Wurm to Federica.
Rodolfo receives Luisa’s letter in the castle courtyard. In despair he is about to attack Wurm when Walter appears and persuades him that marrying Federica will be the best way for him to avenge Luisa’s treachery.

Miller, released from prison, tries to comfort Luisa. The two agree to leave the village the next day. As Luisa prays, Rodolfo enters and pours a vial of poison into a decanter on the table. He confronts Luisa with the letter. When she cannot deny she wrote it, Rodolfo asks her to pour him a drink; when he says it tastes bitter, she swallows some too. Rodolfo tells Luisa the cup was poisoned, and she, released from her vow, tells him the truth. As Luisa expires in Miller’s arms, Rodolfo, with a final effort, kills Wurm.

Notes by Zeke Hecker

“Do you want me … to come to the opening of Miller? I surely would be gratified by the pleasure of hearing you and your colleagues … I wish you and myself a success and goodnight to La Miller, which, I confess to you, I love very much.” – Giuseppe Verdi, letter to the baritone Felice Varesi

Betcha don’t know THIS one.

Luisa Miller was adapted by one of Verdi’s regular librettists, Salvadore Cammarano, from Friedrich Schiller’s play Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love). Schiller was a rich source for Verdi; four of his operas are based on Schiller’s plays. (Quick, name the other three …) This, his fifteenth opera, was composed for Teatro San Carlo in Naples; his relations with the city of Milan and Italy’s main opera house, La Scala, stayed chilly for two decades at the height of his career, so he plied his trade elsewhere. 

Luisa Miller immediately precedes the great middle period trilogy (Rigoletto, Trovatore, Traviata) and has much in common with the last of those. Both are intimate domestic dramas, not the kinds of historical pageants which dominated the mid-nineteenth century operatic stage. (The moment was politically difficult, anyway, so it was thought best to avoid plots about war, treason, or political assassination.) Both concern themselves with questions of social class, much on people’s minds in that bourgeois-defined era. In both, a young woman must deal with the intimidating power of a father (or, in Traviata, a father-figure). The father-daughter relationship, important in many of Verdi’s operas, is central here.

Why isn’t Luisa Miller better known? Perhaps the lack of a broad canvas with lots of “color” has held it back. (But that hasn’t seemed to hurt Traviata, one of his most popular works.) The libretto has come in for its share of criticism, but it’s no less probable or dramatic than the typical libretto of its time, and rather more coherent. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with the music. The venerable Verdi authority Francis Toye wrote: “… there is a new quality in Luisa Miller, a flavor hitherto unperceived. Perhaps it may be defined as ‘intimate pathos’ …” Is it this unfamiliar flavor which has put people off? We do, after all, tend to stick to the same diet. Luisa Miller may not be comfort food, but it’s nourishing; you won’t leave hungry.