James Conlon conducts a ravishing La traviata in Los Angeles

United StatesUnited States Verdi, La traviata: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of LA Opera / James Conlon (conductor). Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, 21.4.2024. (JRo)

Rachel Willis-Sørensen (Violetta) and Lipartit Avetisyan (Alfredo) © Cory Weaver

Director – Shawna Lucey
Production – Robert Innes Hopkins
Lighting – Michael Clark
Choreography – John Heginbotham
Chorus director – Jeremy Frank

Violetta Valéry – Rachel Willis-Sørensen
Alfredo Germont – Lipartit Avetisyan
Giorgio Germont – Kihun Yoon
Flora – Sarah Saturnino
Gastone – Julius Ahn
Baron Douphol – Patrick Blackwell
Marquis d’Obigny – Ryan Wolfe
Dr Grenvil – Alan Williams
Annina – Deepa Johnny

A sterling cast singing Verdi’s ravishing music and a consummate orchestra led by one of the world’s great opera conductors were the ingredients of an unforgettable experience at LA Opera. Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Violetta was transcendent. Lipartit Avetisyan as her lover Alfredo and Kihun Yoon as Giorgio, his father, complemented her peerless performance. But perhaps it is to James Conlon that the evening’s honors are due.

Conlon’s deep intelligence and abiding love of Verdi, along with his ability to meld drama, poetry and music into a coherent and all-embracing experience, was the hallmark of this performance, and what LA audiences have come to expect from him. Under Conlon’s baton, one has the rare privilege of hearing the orchestra, chorus and soloists perform as one instrument, not merely as an amalgam of parts. His great gift is knowing more than the mechanics of a piece of music – within his conducting lies the social, literary and musical history of the work, enriching the piece beyond measure.

Like Leonard Bernstein before him, Conlon is a great communicator and deeply committed to educating audiences. LA operagoers have been the beneficiaries of his intellect and experience with his pre-performance talks, essays and podcasts. How unfortunate for Angelenos that he will end his long tenure after the 2025-26 season, assuming the title of Conductor Laureate.

Shawna Lucey’s La traviata was first staged at San Francisco Opera in 2022 and is new to LA Opera. The handsome sets by Robert Innes Hopkins were traditional, honoring the time period of the novel and play, La Dame aux camélias, on which the opera was based. It is curious that today a traditional staging can seem like a radical notion. The production design allowed the singers to shine onstage without distraction and shine they did.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen (Violetta) © Cory Weaver

Rachel Willis-Sørensen was a luminous presence as Violetta. With her superb musicality and nuanced acting, she created a richly human character. Even her coughing spells were believable and not simply stage business. Willis-Sørensen offered a sympathetic courtesan, an elevated soul who sacrifices herself for Alfredo’s family’s honor. When Alfredo’s father asked her to give up his son, and she sang, ‘Dite alla giovine, si bella e pura’, Willis-Sørensen, in exquisitely rendered, hushed tones, expressed the quiet terror of a terminally ill woman who knows she is destined to die alone.

Whether carousing or contemplative, from the dazzling, ‘Sempre libera’ to the heartbreaking ‘Addio, del passato’, she used her spinto soprano to great effect, producing warmth in the lower registers, sweetness in the delicate passages and a gleaming coloratura.

Both Willis-Sørensen and tenor Lipartit Avetisyan sang with such conviction and force from the very first notes of the opera that their characters were immediately believable. No warm-up was necessary – they dove headlong into their roles, culminating in their touching final duet, ‘Parigi, o cara’.

Avetisyan has an Italianate tenor voice, flexible and expressive, and his acting was robust, from his jealous rages to his tender solicitude of the failing Violetta. As Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, Kihun Yoon’s powerful baritone reached every corner of the hall; but he was also able to modulate his singing to convey nuance and pathos at his growing understanding of the nature of Violetta’s sacrifice.

In secondary roles, Sarah Saturnino as Flora, Deepa Johnny as Annina, Patrick Blackwell as the Baron and Julius Ahn as Gastone were notable characterizations.

The costumes by Hopkins verged on the cartoonish with their mélange of vivid colors and decorative embellishments, but they did convey mid-nineteenth-century Parisian fashion. Direction and choreography tried for the occasional twenty-first-century touch with cross dressing dancers and moments of female solidarity, as mistresses slapped their lovers and gathered around the spurned Violetta.

But what mattered most was the music, and this was Verdi, Conlon and the LA Opera at their best. According to various surveys, La traviata is the world’s most performed opera. From the perspective of this production, one can see why.

Jane Rosenberg

1 thought on “James Conlon conducts a ravishing <i>La traviata</i> in Los Angeles”

  1. Jane Rosenberg gives a nuanced and strong voice to her opera review. She covered the singing, costumes, and sets with an appropriate bow to Conlon’s conducting and gift to Los Angeles. Excellent review.


Leave a Comment