La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi
Philadelphia Opera at the Academy of Music, Oct. 2-11; Free HD broadcast on the Mall, Oct. 16, Independence Historic National Park
Lisette Oropesa’s first time out as Violetta Valery was triumphal Friday night. To show her glee in a role that clearly suits her, after “Sempre Libera”’s fireworks, the soprano flung the contents of her champagne glass across the boards. And why not? Oropesa has it all. Vocal range and beauty, nuance and technique. She’s the slimmest singing actress to play the tubercular “fallen woman” (i.e. sex worker) on this stage in awhile: eliminating one of the challenges that suspend operatic belief.
Alek Shraker, as Alfredo, is also new to the role and this company. The tenor has a slight cover to the voice; opening night, Shraker’s presence was more subtle than heroic but his singing acting developed ardor and projection as the drama progressed. A powerful match for this Violetta is Stephen Powell’s Germont. Always harder to sing slow sustained lines, which Powell well achieved in “Di Provenza”; even finer his impassioned duets with the woman whose love he has come to defeat. On her own, Violetta’s lyric whispers, so perfectly tuned, created a marvelous stillness in the house, before igniting second-act applause.
Pitch: there’s a concept we don’t always find ideal opening night: much as we crave it. Pitch and timbre. What joy to listen to Oropesa through the evening; not only secure of pitch but how beautifully she matched the woodwinds, flutes in particular, how easy it was to admire again Verdi’s knitting of vocal and instrumental lines. How easeful, too, Corrado Rovaris’ shaping of ensembles: onstage and in the pit.
About the production: Scots’ director Paul Curran and Brit designer Gary McCann had spoken of a “Mad Men” approach, so I expected more Mid-Century Modern sleekness. It’s there in the glam costumes but the design appears more Mid-Century Eclectic Aristocrat, given its Victorian style sofas and chandeliers, the carved, Baroque style wooden panels. The latter prove ornately efficient backdrops for most scenes. And when have we seen a Violetta in trousers, well, Capris? Looking this swell— as she does in her country home?
Another classy touch is the gypsy dance across a table. The third act entertainment updates most of the stereotype: Supernumeraries in tuxes play torreros: the bulls are are dancers sans jackets. Since no choreographer is listed, I suspect the company dancers improvised the number nudged on by Curran himself. The women are in shades of scarlet; Violetta’s Marilyn-style gown is Fire Engine gorgeous. There’s more clutter to Flora’s fete than usual, before and Alfredo insults Violetta: the scene is staged across one level rather than upon the staircase that dominates most productions. Easy fix? For my part I’m glad to be rid of a staircase that dominates most productions.
Finally, the finale: Violetta’s death scene couldn’t have been bettered, opera credible, Verdi poignant, beautifully sung. Brava Oropesa. Bravo Mastro Rovaris. Bravo Philadelphia Opera: the new season bodes well.