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More Backups As Met Copes With Ailing

March 15, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) _ James Levine’s absence didn’t create the only hole at the Metropolitan Opera. In the Met’s revival of Verdi’s ``Luisa Miller,″ the leading soprano and tenor never made it to opening night.

Barbara Frittoli withdrew from the title role several weeks ago because of a back injury and Neil Shicoff canceled his appearance Monday as Rodolfo due to illness.

Besides conductor Levine, who is out for the season due to a rotator cuff tear, Placido Domingo had to cancel most of his performances in ``Samson et Dalila″ and ``Cyrano de Bergerac,″ making this a Met season that will be remembered as much for cancellations as for appearances.

Replacing the central figures in ``Luisa Miller″ were Veronica Villarroel and Eduardo Villa, who were unspectacular. They were joined by baritone Carlos Alvarez (Miller), basses James Morris (Walter) and Phillip Ens (Wurms) and mezzo Irina Mishura (Federica).

Villarroel is a passionate actress who created an emotional portrayal of Luisa, the Tyrollean village girl who must falsely pledge her love to Wurms in order to have her father freed, and then is given poison by her true love, Rodolfo, who feels betrayed and kills both Luisa and himself. Despite Villarroel’s ardor, her voice becomes harsh when pushed and her notes lose their luster. He pitch also was unsteady during the unaccompanied portions.

Villa is from the lean-on-a-prop-and-wave-your-other-arm school of acting, and the portly tenor had problems projecting his voice over the orchestra in the early going. By the end of the first act, he sounded hoarse and leathery, but he recovered and sang sweetly in the opera’s most well-known aria, ``Quando le sere al placido.″

Morris was elegantly evil as Rodolfo’s vicious father, who wants his son to marry the duchess Federica, and Alvarez offered a detailed portrayal of Miller, who expresses initial skepticism of Rodolfo and is left to express a warm, tender love for his daughter. Ens, with a deep, dark voice, was appropriately slimy, and Mishura was radiant as Federica, whom Walter hopes will marry Rodolfo.

The 2001 production by Elijah Moshinsky, with sets by Santo Loquasto, is one of the better of the Met’s realistic Verdi stagings.

Maurizio Benini conducted a driven performance that emphasized drama over beauty of sound. Benini is taking over the Met’s new production of Donizetti’s ``Don Pasquale″ from Levine.

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On the Net:

http://www.metopera.org

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