Tag Archives: Verdi

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




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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supporting characters are opera’s unsung heroes

I recently saw a wonderful production of Carmen by Opera Company of Philadelphia, their 2011-12 season opener.

When one goes to see Carmen, one expects the character Carmen to be the vocal and emotional centerpiece of the show. Philly’s Carmen, portrayed by internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham, was Carmen–vocally, physically, emotionally. Expectations exceeded.

We all agree that a heavy burden to “deliver” is placed on any singer playing a title role in opera.

Rinat Shaham as Carmen flanked by Tammy Coil (left) as Mercédès and Greta Ball (right) as Frasquita / OCP 2011 / Kelly & Massa Photography

After enjoying the first half of Act I, knowing I could completely trust Shaham in the title role, I settled into the “rest” of the characters–the supporting players– specifically, all of Carmen’s gypsy friends.

It is important for Carmen to have “friends” since she can be perceived as more rogue than *Sarah Palin* if that’s possible.  She dances with Mercédès and Frasquita, she reads cards with them (sort of). These characters help the audience to realize Carmen can play in the sandbox, too, if not always nicely, and provide comic relief, especially Frasquita.

Vocally, however, it’s critically important to have Mercédès and Frasquita, who lend richness to the texture of the show. The gypsy quintet with smugglers Le Dancaïro and Le Remendado are showpieces that demand talented supporting players. By the end of the show, I have fallen harder for Carmen’s gypsy band than I have for the fiery gypsy, if portrayed well–and they were.

Last spring, during the Met’s Ariadne auf Naxos, the nymphs made the show for me. The direction, staging, and costuming mined the full potential of these supporting players. Of course there were other wonderful performances in that production, but I’ll never forget the nymphs as portrayed.

Anne-Carolyn Bird, Tamara Mumford and Erin Morley as the nymphs in the Met's 'Ariadne auf Naxos'

Could you have a Rigoletto without a stunning Sparafucile? Or Un ballo in maschera without the notorious Ulrica, the fortune teller. (Yes, Verdi definitely mined the dramatic and vocal potential of the supporting player).

Who are some of your favorite supporting players in opera?


Filed under Classic Opera, North American Opera, opera challenges, Supporting roles

What is your favorite Verdi opera?

October is Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday month. We’re celebrating the 19th Century Italian composer and his works all month long on this blog.

Some consider Verdi the Shakespeare of opera–in which case, one month hardly seems sufficient time for commemoration. Actually writer Marion Lignana Rosenberg is already preparing for Verdi’s birth year in 2013 right now via her blog Verdi Duecento.

Bavarian State Opera will present Verdi's Luisa Miller in 2012

At least twelve of Verdi’s twenty-eight operas constitute the backbone of today’s opera repertoire–worldwide. According to Bachtrack, the world’s best way to find live classical performance, there will be more than 400 performances of Verdi operas by major houses worldwide through 2012.

Do you have a favorite Verdi opera? If your favorite appears below, feel free to take the poll:


Filed under Audience participation, Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Opera Stats, Poll


Editor’s Note: This Golden Operatoonity repost continues this month’s Verdi love fest!

Two of my favorite words. And how lucky am I that these two words, both beloved by me, rhyme.

Independientemente I learned in a Spanish class I took freshman year. The first time I heard it, I fell in love with it. It means “regardless.” If I were writing stories in Spanish, I’d use it way too much because it rhymes with itself, thereby giving it the same simple appeal as voo-doo and hanky-panky.

Does independientemente have anything to do with opera? Not really. For starters, though many operas take place in Spain–Don Giovanni being one of them–they are not written in Spanish. No, most classic operas are written in Italian, German, and French.  But I think independientemente pairs up swimmingly with cognoscenti, which is an operatic term referring to “persons with superior, usually specialized knowledge or highly refined taste,” the other half of that definition being that one’s refinement is so well accepted and regarded, that the opinion of the cognoscenti can make an artist or break an artist.

Anthony Tommasini, chief music critic of the New York Times

According to the late J. Merrill Knapp, Giuseppe Verdi, whose name has become synonymous with Italian opera, was barely tolerated by the cognoscenti in the early twentieth century, shortly after his death.  Verdi, who wrote 26 operas, many of which are the most performed operas of all time, was thought to write operas lacking in finesse.  Imagine that. The cognoscenti trashed a composer whose work couldn’t be more relevant or appreciated today.

Thanks to the Internet, the power of those in the know re: opera is no longer the sole province of mass media reviewers. Through blogs and forums, everyman now joins the ranks of the cognoscenti. I remember reading just the other night that opera bloggers can make or break productions and that Internet reviews spread like wildfire.

No matter who actually comprises the cognoscenti, the term cognoscenti seems to imply that they hold a higher opinion of themselves than they deserve. And though I’m cognizant of the fact that people who wear glasses are no smarter than people who don’t wear them, you have to admit. Give someone the right pair of glasses, especially those in the new, old-fashioned horn-rimmed style, and it’s like instant entree to the ranks of the cognoscenti.

a random woman whose glasses make her look smart

You don’t have to worry about this writer joining the ranks of the cognoscenti. I can’t rake a production over the coals. I can’t say anything unkind about someone else in a public forum. No, I’d rather hide behind my fiction and if someone or something really annoys me, I exact my vengeance by putting him or her center stage in a book.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Terminology

have you told Sondra Radvanovsky lately that you love her?

Radvanovsky in COC's Aida/photo by Michael Cooper

Would you like to ask Sondra Radvanovsky how she feels about being dubbed the world’s preeminent Verdi soprano? Now you can, when the Canadian Opera Company hosts its first public broadcast of Aida on Saturday, December 4,  on CBC Radio 2’s “Saturday Afternoon at the Opera” and via streaming Internet from the COC’s website.  

From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., listeners who log onto COC’s website can interact directly with the conductor and COC Music Director Johannes Debus as well as principals Radvanovsky and Jill Grove, who performed the roles of Aida and Amneris, during  an online chat.  They will be joined by other members of Aida’s cast and creative team, offering unprecented listener access into how this production was brought to the stage. 

Use the online chat  to share your thoughts on the performance, ask questions, and talk about the COC version of Verdi’s grandest opera. The Aida synopsis and cast list, production photographs and videos are also available at the website. The broadcasts will also be available for internet streaming on CBC Concerts on Demand, cbc.ca/radio2, as coc.ca for a period of 12 months after the initial streaming date. 

If you’re weren’t sure why the COC is one of the most successful and fastest growing North American opera companies, it’s because of innovative, listener-focused programs like this one. 

Meet you in the chat room!

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Audience participation, Classic Opera, Opera broadcasts, opera firsts