Arturo Chacón-Cruz (Alfredo) and Elizabeth Futral (Violetta) in La Traviata, Washington National Opera, 2008, photo by Karin Cooper
This production was billed essentially as a vehicle for soprano Elizabeth Futral, a familiar and beloved singer among Washington audiences. She has been very impressive in bel canto repertoire like Rossini's Siege of Corinth in Baltimore and Otello with Washington Concert Opera, and especially her frothy Adina in Washington National Opera's L'Elisir d'Amore. Her Violetta, not surprisingly, was in a similar vein, with pyrotechnical fioriture in the Act I brindisi (one of the pieces chosen, not coincidentally, for the publicity video embedded below) and a radiant high note added to the end of Sempre libera. However, Verdi made the role not only like Adina but also called for a stronger low range and a heavier lyric and spinto quality. These things Futral just does not have, and it puts the role just out of her reach, vocally speaking, although her slender figure made her one of the most dramatically convincing Violettas, an elegant counterpart to the vamp brought to life by Anna Netrebko in Salzburg.
Verdi, La Traviata, Washington National Opera, 2008,
with Elizabeth Futral and Lado Ataneli
It was an off night for tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, a younger singer favored by Domingo in Washington, as he struggled with intonation problems in the role of Alfredo. In the cadenza of the Act I duet ("Un di felice"), he led Futral so far astray while unaccompanied that the return of the orchestra, in the correct key, was painful. Both lead roles suffered from the current casting tendencies toward considering physical appearance too much instead of choosing the best voice. Dramatic concerns require a balance of the two, but neglecting the latter too much for the former leads to a result just as unsatisfying as the reverse. Baritone Lado Ataneli gave exactly the same sort of performance as he did in the title role of Macbeth two seasons ago. The voice was rich and round in tone, with all the makings of a great Verdian baritone, but he was all over the place rhythmically, too often straying from the conductor and the other singers at his own pace.
Anne Midgette, 'Traviata': It's a Start (Washington Post, September 15)
Teresa Wiltz, Let's Go, Verdi! A Change-Up At Nats Park (Washington Post, September 15)
T. L. Ponick, Seductive 'Traviata' Simulcast, live crowds have treat (Washington Times, September 15)
The WNO orchestra played fairly well, with nice oboe and violin solos and perhaps too much power from the brass and percussion, and the violin section will hopefully iron out the kinks in the lower desks as the production continues. Both players and the cast on the stage had to contend with the bed-headed Dan Ettinger, making his debut on the company podium. A one-time opera singer recently turned conductor, Ettinger was the least predictable part of the performance. He inexplicably stretched out parts of the score that wanted to drive forward, like the chorus's condemnation of Alfredo's caddish behavior at Flora's party ("Va, va, va, va" -- treated like each statement had a fermata) and the final chords after Violetta's death, at the same time rushing past significant moments. It is always good to have an over-familiar score cleared of its varnish and grime, but most often Ettinger's choices seemed to come more from a willful individuality than a careful consideration of musical imperatives.
Performances of Verdi's La Traviata continue at Washington National Opera on September 18, 21, 24, 27, 30, and October 2 and 5, in the Kennedy Center Opera House.