Superb Traviata—with Skeletons

United StatesUnited States Verdi, La traviata: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Massimo Zanetti, (conductor),  Civic Opera House, Chicago. 20.12.2013 (JLZ)

Violetta Valéry: Marina Rebeka
Flora Bervoix: J’nai Bridges
Marquis d’Obigny: Will Liverman
Baron Douphol: Nicholas Pallesen
Doctor Grenvil: Richard Ollarsaba
Gastone de Letorière: Adam Bonanni
Alfredo Germont: Joseph Calleja
Annina: Julie Anne Miller
Giuseppe: John Irvin
Giorgio Germont: Quinn Kelsey
Conductor: Massimo Zanetti
Director: Arin Arbus
Set Designer: Riccardo Hernandez
Costume and Puppet Designer: Cait O’Connor
Lighting Designer: Marcus Doshi
Chorus Master; Michael Black
Choreographer: Austin McCormick

All of the elements that contribute to the appeal of Verdi’s La traviata were fully in place for Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production. The casting, staging, and acting all came together to pay homage to the story’s nineteenth-century setting. Massimo Zanetti gave a convincing reading of the score, which had a sense of drive and direction while never seeming the least bit rushed. The orchestral timbres were heard clearly not only because of the rich, textured sound from the pit, but also through Zanetti’s attention to dynamic levels that brought out some of the more intimate sonorities.

In the title role Marina Rebeka was convincing musically and dramatically, with a commanding performance that remains strongly in memory. Stylish and persuasive, Rebeka had no problems with demands of range or tessitura and delivered a clear reading of Verdi’s melismatic passages. While this is de rigueur in the opening “Libiamo”, it continued at the end of the act in “Sempre libera” and also in the second act, with Rebeka’s duet (with Germont) “Dite alla giovine,” and in the final act aria, “Addio del passato”—her precision accentuated the pathos.

Joseph Calleja was outstanding as Alfredo, a role he commands fully in range and technique. His “Libiamo” had exquisite phrasing and dynamic nuance, and the duet with Violetta, “Un di felice,” was also memorable because of Calleja’s sense of detail. Calleja was powerful at the opening of the second act, when he realizes the sacrifices Violetta made for him as expressed in the cabaletta “O mio rimorso.” Calleja gave a bravura performance, with a full range of dramatic emotions, plus clear and idiomatic phrasing. His duet with his father Giorgio Germont was also powerful, as was the acting that defined the tense relationship between the two. Such dramatic pitch continued in the dénouement, with the duet “Parigi o cara” evincing a masterful balance between the emotional relationship of Alfredo and Violetta and the musical demands of the scene.

Quinn Kelsey gave an intense approach the character of Giogio Germont. Kelsey’s rich, deep, bass-baritone was just about perfect, and he was expressive throughout. The duet with Violetta, “Dite all giovine” was persuasive, but the scene with Alfredo at the end of the act was even more powerful. Here the conductor Massimo Zanetti did not take the usual cuts, but performed the latter in its entirety, perhaps reflecting Kelsey’s intense performance. The estrangement between Giorgio and Alfredo was even stronger in the act’s final scene, when they confront each other during the decisive party at Flora’s home. Kelsey was utterly convincing, and more importantly, sang with conviction.

The production merits attention because of the ways it evokes the period. Accoutrements of mid-nineteenth century Paris are present, plus some modern touches. The party scene costumes emphasize the decadence of the milieu. Also, the use of life-size puppets for the party at Flora’s at first seems gratuitous, but the skeleton shapes prefigure the death that takes placed in the final scene. Those puppets return in shadow in the opening scene of the final act, when Violetta hears the revelry outside her chamber, where the skeletal shapes portend the tragic conclusion.

While some may quibble about moments when the volume of the orchestra covered some of the vocal lines, it is hard to dispute the result. In this fine, new production, Michael Black’s chorus preparation was evident, as was the orchestra’s contribution with Zanetti.

James L. Zychowicz

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