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30.7.13

Ionarts in Santa Fe: 'La Traviata' Redux


Michael Fabiano (Alfredo) and Brenda Rae (Violetta) in La Traviata, Santa Fe Opera, 2013 (photo by Ken Howard)

It is the last week of July, and that means press week here at the Santa Fe Opera, the chance to hear what five operas, and other goodies, are on offer. My week in New Mexico began last night with Verdi's La Traviata, one of the season's two chestnuts -- part of a brilliant programming formula here. The staging is a revival, with some reworking, of Laurent Pelly's 2009 production, then starring Natalie Dessay in her title role debut, which I covered for Opernwelt. This performance comes on the heels of a re-examination of the life of courtesan Marie Duplessis, the subject of a rewarding new book by Julie Kavanagh, The Girl Who Loved Camellias: The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessis. The book separates the life of the person -- the poor girl from Normandy, abandoned by her father and then sold by him into sexual slavery, who rose to great wealth as a Parisian courtesan, only to be doomed by her tragic love for Franz Liszt -- from the legend later concocted by Alexandre Dumas fils (who was one of her paramours) in La Dame aux Camélias and, through it, Verdi's Violetta.

available at Amazon
J. Kavanagh, The Girl Who Loved Camellias: The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessis
(2013)
Soprano Brenda Rae was not an overwhelming Violetta, with not much power at the bottom but nice high notes -- including an interpolated high note at the end of "Sempre libera" -- and agility in the fast passages. She caught the frivolous side of the character, with a shameless edge rather than coyness, and acted well. Tenor Michael Fabiano was a puissant but also sensitive Alfredo, leaving out the high note at the end of his Act II cabaletta but hitting many others, his slightly stilted manner on stage suiting the character. The Germont of British baritone Roland Wood was disappointing in its shallow tone, the center of the pitch not always apparent and the high notes sometimes strained. Without a more suave legato, the character's moving slow arias lose most of their appeal. It was also a mistake to have Germont seem impatient to leave during the Act II duet with Violetta, almost dismissing her in a way that made what is easily the most beautiful love duet in the opera seem rude and insincere.

Pelly and his set designers (Chantal Thomas, assisted by Camille Dugas), rethought the second act, running it into the first with only a short pause and improving the staging significantly. Perhaps taking Alfredo's line about being on cloud nine ("io vivo quasi in ciel"), several of the large boxes of the set were opened up, to reveal views of a perfect blue sky with fluffy clouds. The effect was somewhat surreal, almost like something you would see in a Magritte painting -- I half-expected Germont to enter in a bowler hat. It also served to lighten up what was one of Pelly's most drab stagings, with its mausoleum-like boxes serving as cemetery, party scenes, country cottage, and Parisian apartment.


Other Reviews:

James M. Keller, SFO’s ‘La traviata’ has ups, downs (Santa Fe New Mexican, July 21)

John Stege, Violetta Revisited (Santa Fe Reporter, July 23)
The 2009 production was conducted beautifully by Frédéric Chaslin, who was appointed chief conductor for the company but who then resigned last year. He will be replaced next year by Harry Bicket, after this season's carousel of conductors. At the podium for La Traviata is British conductor Leo Hussain, in his company debut, and he led with sensitive gestures, drawing out the nostalgia of the opening prelude with finesse. Unfortunately, having wrung out every bit of emotion from the first act, he proceeded to stretch the score in ways that yielded beauty sometimes -- a gorgeous, forlorn clarinet solo in Act II as Violetta wrote her letter, for example -- but also sapped the final act of most of its energy, laden as it was with lugubrious tempos and exaggerated grand pauses. One rarely has to help Verdi at all with the dramatic arc in his best operas, because it is all laid out there for you in the pacing and orchestration.

This production continues through August 22, at the Santa Fe Opera.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Charles, if you have time:
http://www.yaresartprojects.com/exhibitions/manuel-neri-mujer-pegada-series/