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Marina Rebeka as Violetta, Act 1. [Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography]
22 Jan 2014

La traviata, Chicago

In a staging shared with Houston Grand Opera and the Canadian Opera Company, Lyric Opera of Chicago presented recently a new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata.

La traviata, Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Marina Rebeka as Violetta, Act 1. [Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography]


The title role was sung by Marina Rebeka in her company debut; Joseph Calleja repeated his success as Alfredo Germont; the father of Alfredo, Giorgio Germont, was performed by baritone Quinn Kelsey. The Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus were conducted by Massimo Zanetti.

The first and final acts of Verdi’s opera were united in the visual depiction of Violetta Valery’s domain, while the atmosphere attendant on both depictions showed a considerable difference. During the overture to the opera the audience was able to witness, through a film-like curtain suspended before the stage, the protagonist Violetta helped by her maid as she stepped into a ball-gown and train. As the strings played their achingly wistful melody during the overture Violetta donned both feathers and wings to prepare herself further for the festive party in her home. This element of belle époque artifice continued throughout the production lending a credible tone to the celebratory scenes in the later acts.

From her first lines of invitation, “Flora, amici …” and “Miei cari, sedete …” [“Flora, my friends …” and “My dear friends, please be seated”], Ms. Rebeka had full command of Violetta’s role. She sings with a comfortable approach to the character’s shifting vocal lines, uses decoration judiciously, and remains involved in the stage action as hostess at her salon. At Alfredo Germont’s introduction Mr. Calleja assumes a tentative yet searching approach, so that the audience is able to sense his vivid interest not only in the setting but also in its hostess. Calleja’s admirable line and embellishments in the “Brindisi” [“Libiamo” (“Drink”)] are models of bel canto Verdian singing. Individual notes are projected clearly, just as the intensity and color of Calleja’s decorations emphasize an involvement progressing beyond infatuation. When he responds to Violetta’s questions concerning this passionate interest, Calleja introduces his self-defense with a suspenseful diminuendo before describing his unexpected love already for the duration of a year. With a seamless flow of legato expression Calleja outlines his character’s emotional struggle as summarized finally with a tear-laden effect on “Croce e delizia” [“Cross and ecstasy”]. Rebeka’s response is equally moving while she pronounces “un cosi eroico amore” [“such an heroic love”] with a rising line of decoration. During their rapid exchange of plans to meet again when the flower has withered, both principals sang “domani” [“tomorrow”] in piano intimacy. As a means to depicting their growing, shared love, this hushed glance into the characters’ feeling enhanced for the audience the resolve expressed in the duet as concluded.

During an introspective solo, when left alone to ponder the changes affecting her current state, Violetta doubts at first the possibility of authentic love. In the first part of her aria, “Ah, fors’è lui” [“Ah, perhaps he is the one”], Rebeka uses her skills to sing and modulate from soft to loud as though involved in an emphatic conversation with her heart. The incomprehensible, or “misterioso,” is sung by Rebeka softly and in awe, whereas her voice blooms in volume under the weight of the “croce.” During the ensuing “Sempre libera” [“Forever free”] the rapid runs were executed cleanly and forte notes were taken as pure, lyrical cries of emotion. Rebeka succeeds at integrating this showpiece aria smoothly into the drama while at the same time leaving a strong impression of her bel canto approach. Toward the close of the act Calleja’s repeated offstage appeals of “Croce” extended the emotional web for both protagonists even further.

At the start of Act Two Alfredo, while alone, muses on his happiness in the soliloquy “Lunge da lei per me” [“When she is far away”]. Calleja’s breath control and embellishments on “il passato” and “Io vivo quasi in ciel” [“the past” and “I seem to live in heaven”] underline his dream-like state before the rude awakening of Violetta’s financial sacrifice, about which he learns unexpectedly from Annina. In his aria of response, “Oh mio rimorso! Oh, infamia!” [“Oh remorse! Oh infamy!”], Alfredo is indeed jolted into recognizing his position. Calleja performs this aria with true emotional vigor and takes the repeat with the effect of emphasizing his resolve. Act Two of La traviata belongs, of course, just as much to Giorgio Germont, the father of Alfredo. Mr. Kelsey demonstrates a solid command of this role, his exciting baritone drawing on resonant shades of nuance especially during his introductory scene with Violetta. When making an appeal to his son’s lover Kelsey includes individual decoration to enhance the spirit of his request. His sense of rubato was effective in “genitor” [“father”] just as was the embellishment with which he sang “L’angiol consolatore” [“Consoling angel”]. As if in response to this moving portrayal of paternal need, Rebeka’s Violetta sang “Dite alla giovane” [“Tell your daughter”] with a decidedly slow tempo, so that each word was pronounced in fulfillment of her proposed actions. Both singers were then united in a rising line on “sacrifizio” as Violetta subsequently promised to leave Alfredo.

The following scene of Act Two showed Kelsey just as much to advantage. His performance of “Di Provenza il mar” [“From Provence … the sea”], addressed to a disconsolate Alfredo, was noteworthy for its disciplined approach to phrasing. The aria was performed in its uncut form, so that the audience was privileged to hear a polished performance of a baritone staple which is so often trimmed in other productions. Toward the close of this scene the orchestra, perhaps out of sympathy with the anguish expressed between father and son, played its accompaniment too loudly. In the final part of Act Two, at the salon of Flora, the costumed dancers and additional performers fit well into the overall setting of the party. After the intimate duet between Alfredo and Violetta - leading to anger, misunderstanding, and his public denunciation - Germont père returns and participates in a final ensemble. Here Kelsey’s superb legato could be traced throughout the group, while Rebeka performed her part with searing top notes as she lay on her side. Calleja’s lines “rimorso io n’ho” [“I am sick with remorse”], with equally notable projection, remained the dominant impression at the close of the ensemble.

Act Three is staged at first through the same curtain as at the start of Act One, yet now Violetta lies ill and weak as attended by Annina. After Dr. Grenvil hints discretely that Violetta has only several hours to live, the maidservant is sent off to perform errands. When left alone Violetta sings “Addio, del passato” [“Farewell … of the past”], which Rebeka performed with multiple high notes shading to diminuendo. Her vision of “La tomba ai mortali” [“The tomb for us mortals”], as expressed in this performance, was clearly visible to the protagonist despite a letter announcing the imminent arrival of Alfredo. Although he arrives shortly before Violetta succumbs, their final duet, “Parigi, o cara” [“From Paris, dear”] remains ironically also a vision. The tragedy of her death renders this final lyrical happiness, with Calleja’s leading lines answered touchingly by Rebeka’s sustained responses, a poignant conclusion to this excellent new production of Verdi’s masterpiece.

Salvatore Calomino

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