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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.