Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Arturo Chacón -Cruz as Alfredo, Elizabeth Futral as Violetta. Washington National Opera (2008). Photo: Karin Cooper.
21 Oct 2008

La Traviata at the Washington National Opera

Staging La traviata for an opera company these days is an experience akin to that of a symphony’s orchestra programming Mozart: a great idea fraught with disaster.

G. Verdi: La Traviata

Violetta Valéry (Elizabeth Futral), Alfredo Germont (Arturo Chacón-Cruz), Flora Bervoix (Margaret Thompson), Giorgio Germont (Lado Ataneli), Annina (Micaela Oeste), Gastone (Yingxi Zhang), Baron Douphol (Nathan Herfindahl), Marchese D'Obigny (Grigory Soloviov), Doctor Grenvil (Oleksandr Pushniak), Solo Dancer (Eric Rivera). Washington National Opera. Conductor: Dan Ettinger. Director: Marta Domingo.

Above: Arturo Chacón -Cruz as Alfredo, Elizabeth Futral as Violetta. Washington National Opera (2008). Photo: Karin Cooper.

 

The score, with its Mozartean transparency, magnifies any musicianship misstep – a single wrong note! – tenfold. Its blend of vocal virtuosity and realistic, if maudlin, plot leaves few creative options to the director (if there are any “modern” traviatas, I’ve never met them…), and demands that the principals merge traditionally “operatic” vocalization with heavily Stanislavskian acting, so often detrimental to sound production. Yet Verdi’s 1853 war horse is a perennial favorite with audiences: the fast-paced, and despite its familiarity and our modern cynicism still heart-breaking melodrama is, above all, eminently watchable. This arresting quality of La traviata may often insulate its troupe, assuring success despite the inevitable mistakes that creep into any live performance, and even larger issues of miscasting and under-rehearsing. Sooner or later, Verdi’s vivid characters take over the most jaded critic, forcing her to set aside her quill. But the assurance of success breeds complacency: all too often, opera companies are happy to rest on Verdi’s laurels, forgetting how difficult to crack this old chestnut of his really is. When I finally caught up with the Washington National Opera’s La traviata (co-produced with the Los Angeles Opera) on October 2nd, that amnesia – whether inherent in the production or brought on by the end-of-the-run fatigue, I cannot say – was painfully in evidence.

Traviata_9_08_85.pngArturo Chacón -Cruz (foreground) as Alfredo and Lado Ataneli (background) as Giorgio Germont. Washington National Opera (2008). Photo: Karin Cooper.

Elizabeth Futral as Violetta has clearly learned her arias; the set pieces were technically proficient, sounded well, and deserved their applause. But in the faster-paced declamatory scenes the singer seemed distracted by the demands of the acting and had significant projection troubles. On occasion, Ms Futral appeared to be making a visible, physical effort to push the sound out, which, ironically, made her look like a consumptive patient struggling for breath. Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Alfredo had no problem being heard: he was consistently and almost annoyingly loud; to me, much more nuance was called for, but the audience loved it. The singer, however, seemed mostly in love with himself. He appeared to be having great difficulty tearing himself away from the proscenium long enough to acknowledge the love of his life stationed behind him, or any other characters with whom he was supposedly interacting. As a result, Chacón-Cruz came across as an old-fashioned “tenor” – thankfully, a dying breed among young singers these days.

Clearly, both leads had issues with staying in control of either the vocal or dramatic aspects of their roles. Conductor Dan Ettinger, for his part, was in full control and delighted in exercising it, for instance, by holding each fermata in the score for twice its usual duration. Yet his tempi were often questionable – either too slow, creating additional obstacles for the singers already struggling with projection, or too fast, as in the opening scene, in which both the chorus and the orchestra had tremendous trouble keeping up. The chorus recovered by its second appearance in Act 2 Scene 2; the orchestra, however, did not. Indeed, throughout the performance it exhibited deficiencies in pitch, rhythm, sound quality, and balance inexcusable in a professional ensemble, with the horns particularly problematic.

Traviata_9_08_1#7E05.pngElizabeth Futral as Violetta. Washington National Opera (2008). Photo: Karin Cooper.

The most successful aspect of the performance I witnessed was the production itself. Marta Domingo offered traditional but mostly unobjectionable staging, with the single puzzling exception of what was presumably the Spirit of Death lifting and twirling Violetta around the stage during the Act 3 carnival chorus. Giovanni Agostinucci’s sets and costumes were spectacular, particularly Flora’s gorgeously crimson multi-level bordello, the sight of which made the audience break into spontaneous applause. Neither the designs nor the direction were created for WNO, however: they have been seen in LA, and are featured on the 2007 Decca DVD recording of the opera with Renée Fleming and Rolando Villazón. The exception is an updated version of the not-so-little black dress that Violetta wears to Flora’s bordello party – and it is stunning! Ms Fleming clearly got cheated in the wardrobe department. As for the rest of the production, which closed on October 5th, the fact that my readers will not be able to see it for themselves may be a blessing: for the glorious visuals and the equally glorious sound, I do recommend the DVD.

Olga Haldey

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):