Mon 2 Dec, 2013
Tags: 4 STARS, Canadian Opera Company, Civic Opera House, Giuseppe Verdi, Houston Grand Opera, La Traviata, Lyric Opera
Lyric Opera of Chicago
By Giuseppe Verdi
By Lori Dana
La Traviata is more than the first of two glittering holiday gifts in store for the patrons of Lyric Opera. It is also a fitting tribute to the man most opera lovers consider the genre’s greatest composer, on the 200th anniversary of his birth. Giuseppe Verdi based his opera on a play by Alexandre Dumas (fils), The Lady of the Camellias, which Verdi attended on a trip to Paris in 1852. Lyric’s lush new production places the opera in that era (Verdi was pressured by Venetian patrons who commissioned the piece to set it in the 17th century) and for the first time in Lyric history, the performance features Verdi’s complete, unedited score. One cannot help but imagine that this presentation is just the way the composer envisioned La Traviata…and what a beautiful vision it is!
As the focus of the piece, Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka’s Violetta is nothing short of spectacular. A gifted actress possessed of unusual vocal clarity, Ms. Rebeka plays the celebrated courtesan less as the doomed heroine and more as a modern woman willing to live with her choices. Each time Marina Rebeka takes the stage, the audience is riveted and enraptured by her vocal perfection and her impassioned performance. Joseph Calleja, the talented Maltese tenor who delighted Lyric audiences as Rodolfo in Lyric’s 2012-13 La Bohéme, brings his considerable charm and vocal range to the role of Violetta’s suitor, Alfredo. Calleja radiates real joy from the stage, a sentiment that authenticates the rich boy who falls for a “fallen woman.” American baritone Quinn Kelsey (a Lyric favorite since his student days at the Ryan Opera Center) rounds out the lead roles as Afredo’s father, Giorgio Germont. This trio of exceptionally clear-voiced principals gives a performance that is refreshingly without artifice. Verdi’s brilliant music needs little more than the power and beauty of their singing to bring these characters to life. The fact that all three are talented actors and sensitive musical interpreters is icing on the cake. What a treat to experience this masterpiece just as Verdi expected us to hear it, rich and full in every detail. And you may never again hear such subtle and sensitive accompaniment from the Lyric Opera Orchestra. The influence of internationally celebrated conductor Massimo Zanetti’s considerable interpretive skills was definitely in evidence.
Lyric Opera’s La Traviata is also visually rich, its aesthetic the perfect mix of traditional and unconventional. Riccardo Hernandez’s understated sets merely suggest a lace-curtained bedchamber, country cottage and rotunda-like drawing room – in a creamy palette that changes mood with Marcus Doshi’s blue and pink lighting. These create the perfect backdrop for the over-the-top costuming and propping in the Act I party scene (where wig master Sarah Hatton wickedly parodies that 17th Century La Traviata setting with sky high powdered creations adorned with jewels and feathers; where tables are laden with opulent cakes and towers of sparkling sugar plums). Here, Doshi’s clever lighting creates a ballet of silhouettes on the drawing room walls, creating the illusion of a larger crowd in a relatively small space. By contrast, Alfredo and Violetta’s country retreat needs nothing more than a curtained backdrop, settee and chair to convey its cozy parlor. In the second scene of Act II, we take a darker visual turn as Violetta attends yet another costume ball thrown by her friend Flora (J’nai Bridges). Here the theme is Spanish and red predominates, symbolizing Violetta’s decision to return to the decadent life. Again, the look of the set is rich, yet restrained. Dominated by a ceiling full of red silk lanterns, which once lit become a myriad of colors, the stage is full of gaily costumed partiers – and giant marionettes frolic ominously amongst the crowd.
The contrasts perfectly conveyed in the visuals of this production reflect the dichotomy of Violetta’s existence, at once the center of the celebration, yet always alone. The opera opens and closes in the same empty bedchamber, softened by blue lace drapery and gently framed by Verdi’s sad and beautiful opening motif. For those new to the genre, Lyric’s La Traviata is everything you hoped Grand Opera would be. And for those experienced, it will be a reminder that powerful art needs very little embellishment.
(“La Traviata,” presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, runs through December 20, 2013 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. 312-332-2244)
La Traviata production photos by Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago.