Tag Archives: La Traviata

Viva, Verdi! Viva, Violetta!

Operatoonity.com review: La traviata presented by Opera Philadelphia
Live performance: Sunday, October 4, 2015, 2:30 p.m.
The Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Music: Giuseppi Verdi
Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave
4.5 out of 5.0 stars

4.5strslg

 

 

Opera Phila's La Traviata

Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) sings the Brindisi in Act I of Verdi’s La traviata |Photos by Kelly & Massa

While La traviata is consistently one of the most performed operas in the world, it is also universally ranked as one of the greatest operas ever written. The story may be sheer melodrama, but the clarity of the storyline compared to other Verdi operas is refreshingly linear. The music is refined and elegant throughout. Opera Philadelphia deserves an ovation for offering a refreshing production of La traviata with a level of refinement and elegance to complement the virtues of Verdi’s beloved score.

Credit must go to Director Paul Curran for the show’s winning sensibility. He chose to set the opera in Paris during the 1950s, a thoughtful choice that he and his team executed with class and precision, from the glorious set featuring a sweeping staircase to the beautiful costuming and technical direction. In a Q&A, Curran says that the moral climate of the 1950s, when sex scandals actually mattered, hearkens back to the era in which La traviata premiered. Curran’s resetting worked so well and was so meticulously rendered that even traditionalists hoping to see a recreation of the 18th century could not have objected. The 1950s were characterized by a preoccupation with propriety regarding appearance and appearances that it was common to be disingenuous at one’s core. For instance, even the tuxedos couldn’t mask the proclivities which drew these well-clad Parisian men to a party in the home of a high-class prostitute.

Doctor Grenville (Andrew Bogard), the Marchese (Jarrett Ott) and Flora (Katherine Pracht) in the Act I party scene from Verdi’s La traviata

Doctor Grenville (Andrew Bogard), the Marchese (Jarrett Ott) and Flora (Katherine Pracht) in the Act I party scene from Verdi’s La traviata

However, even a La traviata, however lovely, can’t succeed without the ideal Violetta.

Seeing La traviata with the perfect Violetta has not been a common experience for me. Viva, Opera Philadelphia, for casting American soprano Lisette Oropesa to portray the most renowned fallen woman in the contemporary opera repertoire. What a triumph she was! Oropesa was as refined and elegant as the opera she was tasked to sing. Violetta is, after all, a courtesan–not a vestal virgin. So the sensuality Oropesa brought to “The Brindisi” and to the character throughout Act I was spot on. Alfredo falls in love with her at first sight, so Violetta must be lovely but also a little wild, not merely coquettish.

Lisette Oropesa was a tour de force as Violetta

Lisette Oropesa was a tour de force as Violetta

Yet, she can’t just be a fine actress. She must be a coloratura soprano whose vocal gifts can effortlessly push the limits of any soprano’s range. Oropesa took a well-deserved solo bow for a tour de force performance at the conclusion of the opera that brought the audience to its feet. Viva, Violetta.

At Flora’s ball, Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) is back on the arm of the Baron (Daniel Mobbs)

At Flora’s ball, Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) is back on the arm of the Baron (Daniel Mobbs)

Vocally, Oropesa was a star but not the only star. As Germont, Pennsylvania baritone Stephen Powell was, in a word, extraordinary. He, too, received a wildly enthusiastic ovation at curtain call. Germont might be easy to dislike because he destroys the relationship between Alfredo and Violetta, but Powell’s Di Provenza il mar was heartfelt and beautiful.

Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont (Stephen Powell) pleads with Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) to end her relationship with Alfredo for the good of his family.

Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont (Stephen Powell) pleads with Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) to end her relationship with Alfredo for the good of his family.

We nearly forgot the hypocrisy Germont displays showing up as a guest Flora’s “raunchy” ball. Only a gifted performer can convince the audience that Germont is genuinely remorseful for separating Violetta from his son after learning Violetta is dying. Powell is that consummate performer.

Regrettably, tenor Alex Shrader’s Alfredo was overshadowed by these two supernovas. Though he did a servicable job with role, he didn’t have much stage presence compared to Oropesa and Powell. His voice seemed taxed and muddy. He even cracked a few times rather than reaching the rafters.

Alek Shrader stars as Alfredo Germont in Opera Philadelphia new production of Verdi’s La traviata

Alek Shrader stars as Alfredo Germont in Opera Philadelphia new production of Verdi’s La traviata

The Philadephia Opera Orchestra conducted by Corrado Rovaris and the Chorus under chorus master Elizabeth Braden sounded the best I’ve ever heard them in the last several years. Rovaris clearly loved the score and conveyed that adoration to his musicians. And though the Philadelphia Opera Chorus didn’t take a bow because the set contracted as Violetta’s world became smaller and there was simply no room to accommodate more than the principals for curtain call, they deserved a bow.

Alfredo (Alek Shrader) returns to the bedside of Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) as she is dying of consumption

Alfredo (Alek Shrader) returns to the bedside of Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) as she is dying of consumption

This reviewer never thought she would be grateful to Opera Philadelphia for staging (yet) another production of La Traviata.  I stand corrected. Never say never.

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a Callas remark: an Operatoonity microtale

March 6, 1853 Giuseppe Verdi: Premiere of La Traviata, in Venice, Italy.

Maria Callas as Violetta in ‘La Traviata

On the anniversary of the premiere of La Traviata, a microtale about the Verdi opera most frequently produced in North America seemed in order.

Callas recorded La Traviata early on in her singing career, well before her performance at La Scala in collaboration with Italian conductor Carlo Maria Giulini resulted in her designation as the Violetta of the age. She wanted the chance to redo the part as a stereo recording with a stellar cast during a time in which Plácido Domingo was just establishing himself a prominent tenor.

After Callas and Domingo were introduced, allegedly Callas said that she was losing interest in performing on stage because there were no satisfactory conductors, directors, or singers.

“Thank you, Maria,” Domingo said–laughing.

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Classic Opera, Microtales, Opera and humor, Premieres

Met’s ‘Live in HD’ — cash cow or godsend?

Anna Nebtrebko in Manon /Covent Garden Production photo by Bill Cooper

Should the Metropolitan Opera’s award-winning series The Met: Live in HD  be considered a cash cow or a godsend? 

More of a godsend, dear readers. And here’s why. The Met pays plenty to offer Live in HD to 1,500  theaters in 46 countries. In a recent statement to opera media, Met officials stated that nine live transmissions grossed $48 million while netting $24 million in the last completed season, 2009-10.  That means the participating theaters earned a healthy premium of  revenue, such a healthy portion, it might be considered fatback in the deep American South. 

But what the healthy figures (more than seven million HD tickets sold worldwide since the HD series began five seasons ago) don’t show is how The Met: Live in HD is building audience for live opera. Yes, live opera. 

Mariusz Kwiecien as Don G. / photo by Nick Heavican, Metropolitan Opera

It is a hugely impactful outcome–that Live in HD can build younger and broader audiences worldwide–precisely what opera, the art form, needs. And cinema opera brings in revenue–to the tune of $24 million, which buys a lot of period costumes (and other stuff) for shows like Don Giovanni (scheduled for HD Live, October 29, 2011.) 

Whenever the Met transmits an HD broadcast, it always encourages viewers to frequent live opera–of course, at the Met, but in their hometowns and home countries as well. 

In a recent event announcing their 2011-12 season, Managing Director Peter Gelb affirmed that Live in HD is serving current audiences as well as building future audiences for opera. 

“Our tour guides who interact with tourists to the Met report far greater numbers.  Most tourists come with a mission to see a landmark in the house that they’ve seen in HD shows.  The main purpose of The Met: Live in HD is to increase the bond between the Met and our global audience, and increase attendance.” — Peter Gelb 

 The Met has announced eleven Live in HD productions for 2011-12 and they are:  Anna Bolena on October 15; Don Giovanni on October 29; Siegfried on November 5; Satyagraha on November 19; Rodelinda on December 5; Faust on December 10; The Enchanted Island on January 21; Gotterdammerung on February 11; Ernani on  February 25; Manon on April 7; and La Traviata on April 14. 

'The Enchanted Island' / Photo by Nick Heavican

Tickets go on sale in September. Met members in the U.S. and Canada have ticket priority before general viewing public. 

Happy viewing. And if fish have lips, I’ll be stuffing my face with popcorn during Don G in fall of 2011.

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highlights from WRTI’s “Day at the Opera” Act I

I’m listening to WRTI’s “Day at the Opera.”  Some wonderful selections thus far. Yes, you have to endure the fundraising pitches today, but the snatches of music in between have been exquisite. You can listen too at http://www.wrti.org/listenlive.html.

Because I love my readers, I’ll spare you their fundraising patter and just share some of the pieces they’ve played thus far. Here’s an extraordinary version of the “Ave Maria” from Verdi‘s Otello sung by Mirella Freni.

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Another delight this morning was hearing “Libiamo Ne’ Lieti Calici” from La Traviata. I know some think La Traviata is overdone and rightly so–there are many other operas worthy of production–but I never tire of the drinking song. Perhaps because I never tire of drinking. Here’s a glorious version by The Three Tenors.

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“best of” countdown #6 – dying to wear a ball gown?

(first published June 20, 2010)  

Whenever I think of  La Traviata, I think of Violetta’s gorgeous gowns. If opera companies do Verdi’s potboiler in period (and that is an if, by the way), operagoers expect to be wowed by Violetta’s lavish costumes and are seldom disappointed. 

Anna Moffo as Violetta--Wow! What a gown!

Some of the loveliest gowns I’ve found hail from contemporary and not-so-contemporary productions.  The University of Princeton Library Archives has some stunning photos of some of the greatest divas of all-time (perhaps some of your favorites) as Violetta. All I can say to that little .edu link is, “Ooh, the divas. Ahh, the gowns.”       

If you’d like to don one of these, all you have to do is get contracted to sing Violetta for a major house with a major production budget, like Renée Fleming in Covent Garden’s La Traviata, 2009.       

Renée Fleming as Violetta (photo credit: Alastair Muir)

Oh, one more little thing. You have to know how to sing Verdi.        

Oh, and one more little detail . . . you have to die at the end of the story . . . but you’ll look exquisite for a few shining moments.       

A moment of silence, please, for more gorgeous Violetta gowns that are probably hanging in storage.  How many gowns are sitting idle as I write this, heaven only knows. (Too many.)    

WNO favorite Elizabeth Futral

Here are two more contemporary photographs of Violetta gowns, one from the Washington National Opera’s 2008 “ultra-conventional but visually lavish” La Traviata featuring Elizabeth Futral and the other of Madeline Bender, when she was touring the United States with Teatro Lirico.   

Madeline Bender as Violetta, Teatro Lirico

And now, the pièce de résistance, a decades’ old photo of Renata Tebaldi as Violetta, 1957.       

Renata Tebaldi as Violetta

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