50 Years Ago: A New Production Establishes Verdi’s Luisa Miller in the Met Repertory
Verdi’s Luisa Miller first appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in 1929, the fourth of Verdi’s lesser known works to receive its company premiere, at least in part, as a vehicle for the great soprano Rosa Ponselle. Ponselle indeed had a triumph, but the opera did not and vanished from the repertory after only six performances.
It was a new production—which opened 50 years ago on February 8, 1968—that finally established Luisa Miller as a more regularly performed work in the Met repertory. Since then, it has logged 80 performances, and seven more will be added this March and April.
Abundant star power contributed to the success of Luisa Miller in 1968. In her first new production at the Met, Montserrat Caballé sang the title role. The Spanish soprano had created a sensation in 1965 with a concert performance of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia at Carnegie Hall, and the Met rushed to sign her for a debut that same year in a single performance as Marguerite in Faust. For 1967–68, the Met signed her for two high profile assignments: a season opening La Traviata in September, and the new production of Luisa Miller in February. Though critics remained reserved about her dramatic abilities, Caballé elicited praise for her vocal attributes, particularly her astounding ability to float high notes softly. She “sang beautifully as Luisa—most beautifully when she was sending forth her celebrated high pianissimos.” (Winthrop Sargeant, The New Yorker).
Richard Tucker, by then a veteran tenor, won high praise for his Rodolfo, called “one of the outstanding performances of his career” (Miles Kastendieck, Christian Science Monitor). And the young Sherrill Milnes as Miller proved himself the new Verdi baritone in the Met’s stable of stars—“his superb voice rang out with such power and was so beautifully used that he took the evening’s top honors” (Douglas Watts, Daily News.)
American maestro Thomas Schippers conducted the production, which was directed by Nathaniel Merrill and designed by Attilio Colonello. Some critics were bothered by the production’s device of framing the stage with 19th century–style box seats occupied by costumed supernumeraries. But the lavish costumes and sets appealed to the majority, and it was widely seen as a success.
The February 17, 1968, performance of Luisa Miller—with the same cast as the premiere—is available for audio streaming on Met Opera on Demand.