REVIEW: New Lyric music director Mazzola brings early Verdi to life in strong, lovely ‘Luisa Miller’

By Crista Zivanovic

For anyone who thinks they don’t like or understand opera, “Luisa Miller,” an early opera by the famous and prolific composer Giuseppe Verdi, offers a chance to experience what all the fuss is about. Better-known Verdi operas are “La Traviata,” “Rigoletto,” and “Aida.”

Not seen on Chicago’s Lyric Opera stage since 1982, this superb new-to-Chicago production has it all — meddling helicopter parents who interfere in their children’s lives to deadly effect; treachery, jealousy, sacrifice, blackmail — and poison; a truly dastardly villain with the highly apt name, Wurm (the German word for snake, and he really is one!); the sweet, innocent young Luisa, undone by her own goodness and sense of honor; a handsome and daring hero, Luisa’s beloved Rodolfo, who crosses his father’s wishes for the woman he adores; and the equally ill-fated Federica, a regal, royal woman of wealth with her own sense of honor who nevertheless tries to bend circumstances to serve her own desires.
This production of “Luisa” marks the Lyric conducting debut of Enrique Mazzola, Lyric’s music director designate, chosen to replace Sir Andrew Davis. Mazzola, a lauded expert in conducting early Verdi, brought to the Saturday, Oct. 12th opening night a verve and excitement that bodes well for Lyric’s future. “Luisa” marks the first installment of Lyric’s Early Verdi Series, to be presented over the coming years and conducted by Mazzola.

The action takes place in the Tyrolean Alps, and the scenery and stage design by Michael Yeargan are simple yet evocative: you can almost smell the mountain air. Designed by Dunya Ramicova, the costumes are lush,

Krassimira Stoyanova and Joseph Calleja star in “Luisa Miller” at Chicago Lyric Opera through Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

colorful and of the period (mid-1800s), When all the soldiers are assembled on stage in their emerald-green and silver uniforms, it is a grand spectacle, matched by the grand ladies in their crimson velvet gowns. An outsize horse statue representing the grandeur of the important personages of the village, is an imposing contrast to the rustic life and simple characters of Luisa (Krassimira Stoyanova) and her father, Miller (Ryan Center alumnus Quinn Kelsey).

The singing, featuring an outstanding international cast, is gorgeous, and all the singers are solid actors in their own right, making you love — and loathe — the characters, and enhancing the twisty sub-plots. Highlights include the aria, Quando le sere al placido, by tenor Joseph Calleja (Rodolfo), reflecting  Calleja’s formidable talent, and the stunning a cappella quartet by Stoyanova, Alisa Kolosova (Federica), Christian Van Horn (Rodolfo’s scheming father, the Count), and Soloman Howard (the exquisitely sinister Wurm).
FYI: Through Oct. 31 at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Tickets start at $39 and are available at or by calling 312-827-5600.




Crista Zivanovic has spent four decades as a veteran journalist and editor writing about and experiencing the arts and culture scene in Miami, Chicago and Milwaukee, among other favorite cities. She joins Columnist Phil Potempa on-air as a contributor on Potempa’s weekly “Of Notoriety” radio show broadcast on WJOB 1230 AM. She can be reached at