, adding to the stock opera plot of Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl die
a cast of stock characters including the pure
maiden, the tyrannical
lord, the jealous
lover, the tormented
murderer, and the dishonoured
father. These make it rather formulaic in parts, but there are many fine solos and group aria
s, and in the third act the psychology
comes together with more subtlety, prefiguring the deeper and more realistic operas like Rigoletto
, Il Trovatore
, and La Traviata
several years in Verdi's future.
Based on Schiller's 1784 play Kabale und Liebe, this melodramma tragico was first performed at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on 8 December 1849. The American première was at Philadelphia on 27 October 1852 and the London première at Sadler's Wells on 3 June 1858. Last night's performance at Covent Garden was only the 30th there, so though it's not an obscure opera it's not one of the commonly performed ones.
This must in part be the fault of the paucity of opportunity for staging. The main scene is a hut in the mountains of Tyrol, and the chorus are concerned friends of Luisa's from the village. There are scenes in the Count's palace but mainly involving leading characters: no balls or other spectacles. This does help to concentrate the psychological drama but also makes it seem semi-staged.
Luisa is the fair, virtuous, and pious daughter of Miller, an honourable old soldier. Her happiness is complete because she has fallen in love with a stranger, Carlo, and he with her. Miller is afraid he is a seducer. He is indeed not what he seems, for he is Rodolfo, son of their new lord, Count Walter, but Rodolfo is good and true. Not so Walter's steward Wurm, who has his lecherous eye on the beautiful Luisa, and who stokes Miller's fears by telling him Carlo is Rodolfo in disguise. Miller is anguished for the impending dishonour of his daughter.
Meanwhile, back at the Court, Count Walter is equally dismayed by his wayward son's conduct, for he has him lined up for marriage with his niece, Rodolfo's childhood friend Federica. She is now the widow of the Duke of Ostheim and has therefore inherited huge tracts of land. He demands that Rodolfo should propose to Federica, who has always loved him. The poor lad decides to throw himself on her mercy and their long friendship, but alas she is a termagant when scorned.
Back in the mountains. The Count storms up to Miller and calls his daughter an adventuress. Miller storms up to the Count and says he has been insulted. Rodolfo storms to his father. Luisa falls at the Count's feet to demand mercy. Miller storms at his daughter that the innocent don't need to beg mercy from tyrants. The Count threatens to punish Miller and orders father and daughter arrested; the son says if he arrest her he has to arrest him too; so he arrests him; so he threatens him that if he doesn't release her he'll tell them how he became count; so he releases them. Curtain on Act One.
In Act Two the villainous Wurm threatens the virtuous Luisa and says her father will be punished if she doesn't write a letter to him saying she wants to elope with him, so that he can have it shown to Rodolfo, so that he'll think she's deceived him, so that he'll marry Federica. After much toing and froing of conscience the thought of her aged imprisoned father (he's been arrested again) has her quilling away between sobs. The deceits and recriminations mount up: Rodolfo is persuaded Luisa was deceiving him, the Count persuades Rodolfo to marry the Duchess, and everyone has a horrible time. The Count and Wurm relive the night they did away with the previous count and made it look like robbers. Everyone keeps singing that God will protect them, God has abandoned them, or the Devil made them do it.
In Act Three there is poison, despair, discovery, cursing, forgiveness, remorse, death, horror, and a touch of madness, as there should be in any good tragic melodrama.
I did enjoy it, as Ángeles Blancas was a lovely and moving Luisa, and Marcelo Álvarez was resonant and noble as Rodolfo.