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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Deluxe Treatment of Love and Intrigue at BAM

Elizaveta Boyarskaya and Danila Kozlovsky in Love and Intrigue. Photo: Viktor Vasiliev
By David Hsieh

Two young people, madly in love. Unfortunately unswayable disapproval from their parents would eventually lead to their tragic deaths. Is this the story of Romeo and Juliet? No. It is German playwright Friedrich Schiller’s 1787 play Kabale und Liebe (Love and Intrigue). The play is rarely seen in the United States (like almost all of Schiller’s work). But New York audiences will have the luck to see it twice this spring, although neither in its original format. St. Petersburg’s Maly Drama Theatre, which has been at BAM previously with four plays, will bring its Russian production to BAM from June 6—16. And before that, the Metropolitan Opera will mount Luisa Miller, an Italian opera by Verdi which was based on the same play. This production will be broadcast worldwide on April 14 and can be seen at BAM Rose Cinemas.

The doomed lovers in Schiller’s play are Ferdinand, son of the president of a small German duchy in the 18th century, and Luise Miller, daughter of a music teacher. For political reasons, President von Walter needs Ferdinand to marry Lady Milford, the ruling duke’s English mistress. Mr. Miller is also wary of this relationship because he does not believe a nobleman can love, let alone marry, a commoner and therefore is sympathetic to the pursuit by the president’s secretary, Wurm.

Placido Domingo and Sonya Yoncheva in the opera Luisa Miller. Photo: Chris Lee
Whereas Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers are thwarted more by fate and unlucky coincidences, their German counterparts fall victim to class conflict and, as the title suggests, political scheming. It seems that every character in Love and Intrigue has a secret agenda and is willing to go to great lengths to achieve it. Wurm is the main instigator, conspiring with the president to sabotage the Ferdinand-Luise “love” and coercing Luise to accept his very unwelcome affections. The president is all too happy to comply because he needs the alliance with Milford to secure his political standing. Milford has secretly pinned her hope of escape from the authoritative Duke on this marriage. Ferdinand, despite his strenuous effort to plead his case to anyone—even blackmailing his own father—is totally powerless in his own affairs. His only success would be the cause of the couple’s downfall.

Schiller wrote the play at the age of 24. It is his last play in prose and predates his great history dramas. It is usually described as in the “sturm und drang” style, which is basically the precursor of Romanticism and emphasizes raw and intense emotionality, often with an anti-aristocratic bent. In class inequity we can find the source of conflict in Love and Intrigue. And underlying it is the ironclad control, but never-on-stage-character, of the Duke.

Curiously, Verdi resisted setting music to Love and Intrigue despite that the story seems to contain many elements he loved. It is by his second favorite playwright, next to Shakespeare. (He had already composed two by Schiller before—I Masnadieri and Giovanna d’Arco—and would go on to write another—Don Carlos.) It contains themes dearest to Verdi, such as the struggle between duty and free will, and father-daughter relationships. (The one opera that Verdi dangled for the longest time but never got around to is King Lear, another story with volatile father-daughter dynamics. Coincidently, BAM is presenting a Royal Shakespeare Company production this month at the BAM Harvey Theater.)

Verdi’s hesitance was often attributed to the fact that he was living in Paris then (1849) and did not want to write another opera for Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. Being a fervent republican, he was also drawn to another story with a revolutionary theme, The Siege of Florence. But once it was decided on (censorship intervened), he went to work quickly. A first draft was received in May of 1849 and by late October it was ready for rehearsal. The opera eliminated certain characters, like Luisa’s mother, and italicized some names, but retained the basic contour of the story. Indeed the first two acts (the play has five, the opera, three) were titled as “Love” and “Intrigue.” Another major change was to have Miller be an ex-soldier turned peasant, presumably to depict a more pastoral and romantic atmosphere. (The opera opens with a country gathering.) Despite his initial reluctance, Luisa Miller would mark a major progress in Verdi’s music career, leading to his most fertile middle period.

Both productions have unmissable star power. Maly’s Ferdinand is played by Danila Kozlovsky, often called Russia’s answer to Brad Pitt. And at the Met, Mr. Miller is sung by opera legend Placido Domingo, in his 149th stage role. So for both opera and theater fans, don’t miss either one!

Catch a live broadcast of Verdi's Luisa Miller this Sat, Apr 14 at 12:30pm in the BAM Rose Cinemas.

David Hsieh is a publicity manager at BAM.

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