Maybe the old saying about the relative difficulty of tragic and comic is right: with a much less starry cast, less hype -- and for a correspondingly smaller audience -- the Met followed last Friday's flawed Don Pasquale with a much more successful presentation of Verdi's early masterpiece Luisa Miller on Saturday night.
The evening began with the bug that seems to have swept the house: a house representative (not Volpe) announced that Veronica Villaroel, the night's Luisa, was singing through something and, presumably, requested indulgence. This was unnecessary. Only hardness at the very top showed the work of illness; the rest of her voice was remarkably clear, resonant, and much more mobile than I'd have expected from the verista -- simply a pleasure to hear all around. Her tenor partner Eduardo Villa (filling in again for the sang-one-act-in-the-run Neil Shicoff) seemed more like the ailing one, sounding rather less than himself until the final act.
But on this night it was the dynamic between Luisa and her father that drove the evening. On the occasion I found Carlos Alvarez a bit narrow in sound, but his control, presence and rapport with Villaroel were excellent. And she didn't just sound good and act well, but showed a live rhythmic sense that doesn't get much play in some of her other roles. Even routinier Maurizio Benini did well, giving the audience its good share of early-Verdi raciness all evening. Perhaps he's learning to use the Met Orchestra's resources better over time.
Karen Slack's unexpected debut and broadcast as Luisa went well and was certainly news, but I'm a bit surprised that Villaroel's success in the run didn't draw more notice.