Friday, October 5, 2018

An Operatic Interlude, then Beckett

Wednesday found me at the dress rehearsal for La Traviata at the Washington National Opera, as the local company is now styled. To my mind, this extremely popular Verdi mid-period opera may be the most delightful of operas when it comes to pure musicality and the singing opportunities it offers. The cast were all making their debuts at this company, which tells one little about their background: Venera Gimadieva as Violetta, Joshua Guerrero as Alfredo, and Lucas Meacham as his father, Giorgio.

Aside from leading the famous Brindisi, the drinking song, at the start of the first act, Alfredo has no major singing (he does join Violetta again in a brief duet) until the second act. Violetta is the star of the opening act with the two major arias that end the act: È strano! ... Ah, fors'è lui , in which she contemplates whether he is the one to take her away from her self-destructive partying life as a courtesan (to use the classic euphemism that is always used in describing her), and then Sempre libere (always free) which expresses her seeming choice to live her seemingly joyous life until her already likely early death from consumption.

These, together with the preceding party scene with the brindisi and love duet and general singing, make this act one of the glories of opera: just steady delightful song from orchestra and singers. Act Two introduces the not-so-nasty villain of the piece, Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont, who urges Violetta to abandon Alfredo so that Alfredo's sister may marry successfully, which has been threatened by Alfredo's relationship with Violetta. She does follow his request and Alfredo storms after her.

The baritone here is far from the villainous Count de Luna of Il Trovatore or Don Carlo in La Forza del Destino.  Those are Verdi baritone roles of unremitting evil. Giorgio is given a wonderful aria to make his position sympathetic, even in our very different time. Alfredo previously has had some good singing and to me, this first scene continues the uninterrupted delight of the first act.

Francesca Zambello, Washington Opera's artistic director (and also in charge of the Glimmerglass Opera) is directing this production, which does have excellent sets and costumes. She has chosen to place the intermission between the two scenes of Act Two, which is far from traditional, but which works well. Scene Two is Flora's party, There's some gypsy and Spanish "entertainment" featuring dancing girls and then Alfredo's denunciation of Violetta and encounter with her regular consort, the Baron, Giorgio appears to chide him.

After a scene change, Act Three takes place in Violetta's bedroom where she is dying. There is a carnival outside in Paris and this production makes the bedroom seem like a hospital word, a motif used in the opening pre-party Prelude before Act One. Alfredo and Giorgio appear to make amends before the well-played (in this production) death scene.

This is a frequently-performed opera; I've probably seen four or five different productions and heard more on the radio. All in all, this was a delightful operatic evening, with good singing and excellent conducting by Renato Palumbo.

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