Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.



12 Jun 2014

La Traviata in San Francisco

La Traviata has hit the stage at San Francisco Opera every three to five years (even annually in some periods) since 1924. Surprises have been rare.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Nicole Cabell as Violetta Valéry, Saimir Pirgu as Alfredo Germont [Photo by Cory Weaver, San Francisco Opera]


And unwelcomed. Take for instance the 2009 San Francisco installment which was the 2006 art deco version imported from L.A. Opera directed by Marta Domingo. Violetta, a flapper, arrived at the party in a Rolls Royce during the overture, and it was downhill from there even though the soprano was Anna Netrebko.

Just now in San Francisco there was a welcome surprise, and that was Verdi’s orchestral score made vividly present in moods and colors, rushes and hesitations, pianos and fortes, well, pianissimos and fortissimos. It was the high octane conducting of Nicola Luisotti that made Verdi’s first truly masterful score the star of the show. The pit was the sentient center of Verdi’s personal and deeply felt domestic tragedy.

Never mind that this intense emotional focus emanating from the seemingly inspired musicianship of a superb orchestra revealed Francesco Maria Piave’s (and one assumes Verdi’s) dramatic structure to be truly clumsy. Or that Luisotti’s ultimate acceleration missed the emotional beats of the opera’s final moments — the blow of the intense release was summarily trampled over — a not atypical Luisotti conclusion.

La Traviata, Act I. Photo by Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

The reliable 1987 (twenty-seven years ago) San Francisco Opera production by John Copley was back on stage. It is definitely mid-nineteenth century in concept as required by Verdi, glowing in warm colors (the splendid lighting designed by Gary Marder). The wash of colors, the swish of lavish gowns, the brilliant red flash of the flamenco dancer, the weight of nineteenth century architecture were however at odds with the detail and precision emerging from the Luisotti pit, and the emotional depth of the score itself.

The cast was decidedly low octane, and intimidated by the conductor. The stage action by the principals was kept downstage center, looking not at each other while singing to one another but presentational, addressing the audience and most importantly remaining able to have direct eye contact with the conductor.

Soprano Nicole Cabell replaced the originally announced Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva as Violetta. Mlle. Cabell has previously proven herself a fine bel canto singer in San Francisco (Giulietta in Bellini’s I Capuleti ed i Montecchi) in an integrated production (musical and production elements were compatible). A fine singer and artist, here undirected, she struggled to dominate the stage as required of Violetta, and did not possess an energy or brilliance of tone to bring Violetta to vibrant life. She opted out of the optional E-flat in “Sempre Libera.”

Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu has also proven himself in San Francisco as a bel canto singer (Tebaldo in Bellini’s I Capuleti ed i Montecchi). A fine singer and artist, vocally he cannot make the leap from easily fulfilling the demands of well-directed bel canto to the specific vocal and histrionic requirements of proto-realism roles (a larger, warmer voice and presence) or the higher powered vocal demands of mid- and late Verdi theater.

Nicole Cabell as Traviata, Vladimir Stoyanov as Germont. Photo by Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

Bulgarian baritone Vladimir Stoyanov sang Germont. This esteemed artist possesses a quite beautiful voice, and more than Mlle. Cabell or Mr. Pirgu fulfilled the Luisotti musical vision. Yet he too seemed a too small vocal and histrionic presence on the War Memorial stage.

Conductor Nicola Luisotti brings very specific and very powerful musicianship to opera. San Francisco Opera has yet to build a production around his unique talent. One hopes this may one day happen.

Luisotti conducts the first six performances (through June 29). The remaining four July performances, including the July 5 performance beamed directly onto the gigantic scoreboard of AT&T Park (home of the Giants), have a different cast of principals and a different conductor. Opera-at-the-Ball Park is not to be missed. It may be the Traviata you want to see.

Michael Milenski

Casts and production information:

Violetta Valéry: Nicole Cabell; Alfredo Germont: Saimir Pirgu; Giorgio Germont: Vladimir Stoyanov; Flora Bervoix: Zanda Svede; Gastone: Daniel Montenegro; Baron Douphol: Dale Travis; Marquis D’Obigny: Hadleigh Adams; Doctor Grenvil: Andrew Craig Brown; Annina: Erin Johnson; Giuseppe: Christopher Jackson. Chorus and Orchestra of San Francisco Opera. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti. Original stage director: John Copley; Stage director: Laurie Feldman; Set design: John Conklin; Costume design: David Walker; Lighting design: Gary Marder; Choreographer: Yaelisa. San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, June 11, 2014.

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):