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Verdi, Giuseppe: Luisa Miller
Act 2: Recitative, Aria and Cabaletta, "E segnar questa mano... Tu puniscimi, o Signore... A brani, a brani" (Luisa)

Roger Pines, Dramaturg, Lyric Opera of Chicago
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Aria Talk12/1/2007

Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
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Luisa Miller's title role is often undercast with lightweight lyric sopranos, since spintos don't always have the necessary flexibility for this music. If you have that — plus a reasonably youthful timbre — and you'd like to test your credentials as a young spinto, Luisa is the place to begin. Her scena can show that you've got the guns for Verdi, while also enabling you to touch the listener's heart through sheer sincerity.

Luisa's beloved, whom she assumes is a huntsman named Carlo, is actually Count Walter's son, Rodolfo. Wurm, one of the Count's retainers, lusts after Luisa and is irked when her father denies him permission to marry her. He informs Miller of "Carlo"'s true identity, making clear that a young nobleman could never marry a common village girl. Wurm then reveals the liaison to the Count, who's hoping his son would marry Duchess Federica. Miller is about to grant "Carlo" Luisa's hand when the Count appears, denouncing Luisa as a seductress! Her furious father is eventually imprisoned for insulting the Count. Wurm tells Luisa she can save him. How? By writing to Wurm himself, stating that her beloved is not Rodolfo but Wurm, with whom she wishes to elope. The thought of this leaves Luisa in agony. Her aria finds her looking to God: He can punish her if she's offended Him, but she begs Him not to abandon her. In the dialogue after the aria (you skip this in an audition, unless you've got a bass to assist you), she writes the letter and Wurm orders her to accompany him to the Count's castle. In the cabaletta, Luisa begs him — now that he's ripped her heart "a brani" ("to shreds") — to at least restore her father to her, since she feels death invading her body.

The brief recitative addressed to Wurm ("Could this hand sign my shame? You hope for it in vain!") lets you try out your high B before moving into the andante agitato aria. "Tu puniscimi" requires that you keep the bel canto element paramount, but at the same time you need command of a line that leaps around a good deal (including one hair-raising leap to high A), enhanced by typically Verdian rhythmic thrust, especially in the ascending syncopations; a real flowering of the voice on the aria's climactic B and A; and a grace suiting the cadenza, which wouldn't be out of place in La traviata (written four years later). The fabulously vaulting allegro assai moderato cabaletta moves from ominous minor to devastatingly sweet major at the moment when Luisa indicates that her father's hand can at least be allowed to close her eyes. For an audition, skip the repeat: just do the first verse, then cut to the coda — you'll still be able to show off no fewer than six high B-flats!

Score: Ricordi
Recording: Anna Moffo, RCA #6646 (CD); Katia Ricciarelli, Opera d'Oro #1205(CD); Renata Scotto, DG #000707009 (DVD)
Timing: 4:30 (including only one verse of the cabaletta)
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