Passion, Politics and a Dash of Poison: Verdi's 'Luisa Miller'

Nino Machaidze (soprano) as Luisa MillerIf there were a Top Ten List of great playwrights whose work has also inspired operas you might think Shakespeare would be number one. After all, his plays have been turned into hundreds of operas. But Shakespeare has proven troublesome for composers -- even the best of them -- and only a handful of those operas have been truly successful.

Instead, one dramatist who might appear at the top of that list would be the 18th-century German writer Friederich Schiller. He had little interest in music and his plays aren't as familiar as Shakespeare's, but they did inspire a remarkable number of truly fine musical dramas. That list includes operas about Joan of Arc by both Verdi and Tchaikovsky, Rossini's William Tell, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, Puccini's Turandot -- and Verdi's Luisa Miller. Verdi based Luisa on a Schiller play with a title that not only describes that opera, but also countless others. It's called Kabale und Liebe -- or Intrigue and Love.

Verdi wrote Luisa Miller in 1849, and it's not his most famous Schiller-based opera. That distinction would go to his sprawling drama Don Carlos. But of the two, Luisa Miller is surely the more straightforward and accessible, with its story of young love plagued by corrupt politics, class conflicts and bitter family squabbles. In fact, the play's title provides appropriately operatic names for the first two acts of Verdi's drama. They're taken from Schiller's original: "Love" and "Intrigue." The title of the final act is a bit more ominous, and perhaps even more operatic: "Poison."

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents this early gem by Verdi in a production from the Hamburg State Opera. The stars are soprano Nino Machaidze in the title role, with tenor Ivan Magrì as Rodolfo, in a production led by conductor Simone Young.