Sunday, October 05, 2008

Opera Review: La Traviata

Hi...okay, I know, I promised a blog about my trip to the beach. It's still coming. Probably. I don't know. I've been busy. I would like to get back to blogging more. We'll see. Anyway, for the three of you still bothering to check this blog, here's a new post.

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I didn't mean to be a jerk. Really, I didn't. But when the woman sitting next to me at La Traviata at Portland Opera this evening asked between the 2nd and 3rd acts, "Have you seen this performance before?" I looked at her as if she'd asked, "Purple baby horticulture breadfruit shirking?" I sort of cocked my head and said, "I'm sorry, what was the question?" She smiled and repeated earnestly, "Have you seen this performance before?"

Well...what could I say? To an opera fan, the performance is what's happening that evening. To me, it was tantamount to asking, "Have you experienced these exact three hours in time before?" The production is the series of performances mounted with this cast, this set, this conductor and this stage director in this house; I suppose that's what she meant, and I could have said no, but she irritated me so I just said, "I have seen La Traviata many times." Which is true. I could have added, "I have sung La Traviata," too, but I wanted the conversation to end.

* * * * *

It was pretty good. I give it a B.

There was much to admire in Stephen Lord's handling of the orchestra, in particular the careful attention to dynamics (the long, steady crescendo and accelerando at the end of the Brindisi, for example), and I especially liked the extra "oomph" in the chords underneath "Prendi, quest'e l'immagine," which seemed to convey the cruel inevitability of the finale. I was glad to hear Alfredo's cabaletta, often cut, but not thrilled with the inclusion of Germont's cabaletta (even more often cut, but for good reason), and not convinced both verses of "Addio del passato" were merited.

The many comprimario roles were ably sung, though Brendan Tuohy's goofy Gastone was annoying. Portland native and local favorite Richard Zeller sang a commanding Germont with excellent legato and easy high notes, although the top sounded a bit woolly. Tenor Richard Troxell did not impress quite as much as he did as last season's Don Jose; though ardently sung, he didn't possess the agility for the Brindisi and struggled with some of the more dramatic passages. "O mio rimmorso" was energetic and for the most part very well done, though it's not traditional to drop out for the last eight bars unless you are going to interpolate the final high-C.

Maria Kanyova's Violetta was uneven, though she received rapturous applause at the curtain call. She has a beautiful, secure lyric soprano voice, but the coloratura fireworks of the first act test her limits. At times she opted for an irreverent straight tone in the cabaletta as an expressive choice, but then her voice lost bloom and sounded amateur. I could tell from the first D-flat that she didn't have an E-flat (at least, not tonight), but she tried it anyway, which was a mistake; you shouldn't cap a perfectly competent "Sempre libera" (a notoriously difficult piece -- though she lagged behind the beat in the roulades) with a screechy high note that's not in the score. If you have it, great. If you don't, Verdi didn't ask for it. It sounded like she stepped on something cold and slimy.

Many of her best moments were in the long duet with Zeller in the second act, which perfectly suits her voice. "Amami, Alfredo" gave me goosebumps. She was excellent in the brief third act, displaying a perfectly shimmery pianissimo at the end of her last aria. Her voice blended beautifully with Troxell's, though their chemistry didn't sizzle to the back of the house.

The production, by James Robinson for Opera Colorado and the Boston Lyric Opera is low-frills but adequate; the first act was suitably opulent, but red gowns in a room with all-red decor was a bit redundant. The all-white set for the first part of Act II made it look as if it were set in winter, though no one aside from Germont seemed dressed for the weather. Directing for Portland Opera, Jennifer Nicoll made some interesting choices, some more successful than others. She badly misjudged the end of the second act, having Alfredo retreat to the wings to the laughter of the chorus, when the clear sentiment of the moment is outrage. I am guessing she is also to blame for turning Gastone into a hybrid of Jar-Jar Binks and Rosie O'Donnell. Otherwise the performance was conventional.

Stay tuned: in two weeks I'll be reviewing opening night of Seattle Opera's Elektra.

3 comments:

tully said...

I'm listening to it for the first time as we speak. Truly Kickass!

tully said...

Oh, and in this case, I suppose I could experience to the same performance twice. (Pavarotti's recording).

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