|Jennifer Gliere as Violetta in a confrontation with Robert Garner as Giorgio Germont|
People constantly ask us what our favorite opera is. There are so many operas that we love and we never know how to answer the question. But if push comes to shove (or story comes to score), we must say that it is Verdi's masterpiece La Traviata. On this touching tale, so revelatory of 19th c. morality, Giuseppe Verdi lavished his most consistently gorgeous melodies, so revealing of the characters inner lives.
Violetta, the ultimate "party girl" reveals both an ability to abandon herself to love and a dignity of spirit when asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. Although we are sure that all four sopranos in the rotating casts of Amore Opera were topnotch, we are very glad to have heard Jennifer Gliere for the first time. The scintillating timbre of her soprano and the artistic way in which she employed it were enhanced by some fine acting that made us care about Violetta's tragic fate.
Never having seen the 1853 play La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, upon which Francesco Maria Piave's libretto is based, we cannot say whether the sympathy we feel is based upon the story, the libretto, the music, or the performance. Let us just say they all contributed.
Although the story is very much one of the 18th and 19th c. and consequently very resistant to updating (as evidenced by the meretricious version at the Metropolitan Opera), a 21st c. woman can still relate to Violetta's first act ambivalence. At some point in a woman's life, she weighs her independence against the delights of romance. What arias better express this ambivalence than "Ah, fors' è lui" and "Sempre libera". Ms. Gliere invested the first aria with melting legato and the second with fiery fioritura.
Baritone Robert Garner, whose performances regularly impress us, was just as impressive last night as Giorgio Germont. We want to detest this character for ruining the happy romance of his son Alfredo with Violetta, who has given up her self-destructive partying for love. But this provincial papa is just as much a victim of circumstance as is Violetta. He lives in a morally judgmental world in which his son's behavior puts a stain on the family name and threatens his daughter's impending marriage.
In consequence, a good baritone can turn our negative feelings in a sympathetic direction and Mr. Garner's performance did just that. The harsh coloration of his voice and hostile demeanor gave way to softer tone and gesture as the bullying turned into manipulation in "Pura siccome un angelo". He even played the God card! Poor Violetta was no match for him. But by the end of their confrontation, he was impressed by her dignity and expressed sympathy for her plight. It was a remarkable performance.
The passionate young Alfredo was sung by tenor Gerardo Gaytán, as capable of vicious retaliation toward Violettta's apparent rejection as he was of tender love in "De' miei bollenti spiriti".
Mezzo-soprano Hannah Kramer made a vivacious Flora and soprano Emily Evelyn Way was a supportive Annina. Brinson Keeley was appropriately distasteful in the baritone role of the entitled and possessive Baron Douphol, Violetta's on-again-off-again "patron". Justin Randolph sang the tenor role of Gastone, the Vicomte who brought Alfredo to Violetta's home, thus setting the plot in motion.
Under the direction of Susan Morton, the chorus of partygoers sang well. Under the baton of Musical director Maestro Douglas Martin, the orchestra played well for the most part, hampered only occasionally by some tonality problems in the string section.
We have previously pointed out that singers make the best directors. Nathan Hull-- Founder, Artistic Director, and Stage Director--succeeded in making the action believable and meaningful with several small touches. For example, one of the "aristocratic" partygoers took unwelcome physical liberties with one of the serving girls. After the partygoers left, Violetta wanted to toast her independence and searched amid the discarded glasses and bottles for some leftover champagne to pour into her glass. We blushed as we recalled doing the exact same thing! What a humanizing touch!
We could go on and on but urge you to see for yourself what a good director can do with a traditional production. We far prefer such a modus operandi over the total transmogrification and irrational updating we have been exposed to lately.
Scenic Design by Richard Cerullo was consistently appropriate as were the costumes of Cynthia Psoras--with one minor exception. La cravate noire was not appropriate evening attire in the mid 19th c. Given the cost of renting tailcoats we are totally willing to accept such a minor flaw!
Choreography by Aurora Reyes provided some colorful Spanish dancing at Flora's party, the gaiety setting us up for the violent confrontation that followed.
There will be a performance tonight and another Sunday afternoon, with different casts. You couldn't find better entertainment. Our high opinion was reflected in the standing ovation and thunderous applause the cast received from a packed house.
(c) meche kroop