Veni, Verdi, Vici:
Fabio Luisi takes a stand for Verdi at the Met
Time Out New York Feature
For all that Verdi is a cornerstone of the Metropolitan Opera’s repertory, the company has not always treated the master with due respect. Some of the past half century’s greatest Verdi interpreters—conductor Carlo Maria Giulini, directors Luchino Visconti and Giorgio Strehler—never worked at the Met. Claudio Abbado last visited in 1968, and Riccardo Muti is not slated to make his début (with Attila) until 2009–10, when he’ll be nearly 70.
Thus, when conductor Fabio Luisi made his Met début in 2005, local Verdians pricked up their ears. Martin Bernheimer called Luisi’s Don Carlo “virtually definitive”—a rare superlative from the stern Financial Times critic, and from anyone at all in reference to this sprawling and much-revised score. Its fiery grandeur notwithstanding, Luisi’s reading of Don Carlo throbbed like a wound, laced with the tears and soul-sickness of Verdi’s tormented characters.
The incoming music director of Dresden’s Staatskapelle and Semper Opera, Luisi, 48, presides over this season’s Met revival of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and its new staging of Die Ägyptische Helena by Richard Strauss. Boccanegra reunites him with bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, the shattering King Philip of 2005’s Don Carlo, while the Strauss rarity stars two glittering divas, Deborah Voigt and Diana Damrau.
Slightly built and energetic, Luisi reflects on Verdi’s music as he serves biscuits and steaming coffee in his New York flat on an icy morning. “Don Carlo and Boccanegra are difficult because Verdi worked on them for many years, and they stand out for their psychological depth,” he says. “In a sense, they’re the operas he most loved, so one is obliged to approach them with great respect and conviction.”
The maestro grows animated when recalling La Scala’s peerless Strehler/Abbado production of Boccanegra from the 1970s: “Even now, I get gooseflesh thinking about the beginning of Amelia’s aria. This finespun, luminous music is one of Verdi’s most magical pages. Strehler managed to re-create this radiance on the stage in a way I never could have imagined. And I know, because I’m from Genoa”—the city in which Boccanegra takes place. “There is a very particular light that comes off the sea. Verdi knew, because he adored Genoa. Genius that he was, he captured this light in music with his sublime orchestration.”
Along with an affinity for Genoa, Luisi shares with Verdi a vein of melancholy cynicism expressed in a love for animals. “They’re sincere,” he says, nodding toward Leonie, the grizzled pug who accompanied him to New York, “more sincere than many humans.” Leonie and sundry friends—both canine and extraterrestrial—frolic at Luisi’s website, www.fabioluisi.com.
Simon Boccanegra opens Mon 19.