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Reviews

San Jose Opera, <em>La traviata</em>
29 Apr 2018

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

San Jose Opera, La traviata

A review by James Sohre

Above: The chorus of revelers surrounds Flora Bervoix (Christina Pezzarossi) in Act III

 

Violetta Valery is regarded as an Everest of operatic soprano roles and Amanda Kingston proved more than up to the climb. Ms. Kingston has a supple, agile, alluring instrument that is more than capable of meeting the legendary challenges of the part, namely the flights of impetuous coloratura in Act I; the midrange conversational passages that give way to spinto outbursts in Act II; the weighty pathos and then the limpid lyricism of Acts III and IV. Vocally, the singer has all these effects in her arsenal, and she has a lovely presence that is majestic and assured. The San Jose public has been blessed to have an artist of her caliber on their opera stage this season.

Violetta, like Carmen, is a complex persona, sometimes enigmatic, often unpredictable, and endlessly malleable to the interpreter’s individual gifts. Amanda’s two strongest assets are her rock solid, searing flights above the staff that filled the auditorium with plangent, vibrant sound; and her heart-breaking pathos with which she imbued the self-sacrificial moments. She clearly understands and communicates the text, and there is not a note out of place in here secure technique that is even from top to bottom.

If there is one thing I wish this fine artist could invest in her already accomplished portrayal it is a method of communicating the heroine’s extreme physical frailty. Moments of temporary (and ultimately fatal) physical lapses were a bit too robustly ‘present’; intelligently rendered but missing that final tragically hollow color that can haunt the viewer’s heart. I have no doubt that the prodigiously talented Amanda Kingston is capable of this final dimension, which will further enhance what is already one of the best sung Violetta’s on display anywhere.

Violetta (Amanda Kingston) Flora Bervoix (Christina Pezzarossi) and Sr. Grenvil (Colin Ramsey).jpg Violetta (Amanda Kingston) is comforted by Flora Bervoix (Christina Pezzarossi) and Sr. Grenvil (Colin Ramsey).

Dane Suarez is perhaps the most effortlessly boyish Alfredo I have yet seen, and he communicates his helpless romantic (and sexual) infatuation with Violetta with honesty and abandon. His fresh faced, puppy dog approach made him stand out from the other jaded men in Violetta’s circle, and made us understand why Violetta might be attracted to his impetuous sincerity and handsome naiveté.

Mr. Suarez has an appealing, substantial tenor, which he deployed with considerable nuance. Although he sang sturdily throughout the evening, he found his most solid vocal footing in the sardonic phrases and recriminating outbursts in Act III, where he poured out highly charged high notes that were riveting in their intensity. When Dane affected the boyish sweetness earlier on, the gears were sometimes on display as he worked (albeit successfully) to reign in his sizable tone, and to color it youthfully. In the future, he might pay attention to not letting his voice get off the breath since some crooning phrase ends drooped just under the pitch. Still, his total emotional investment in pursuing and later, comforting Violetta proved heart rending.

Veteran baritone Trevor Neal was an imposing Giorgio Germont, his physical stature and orotund baritone impressively illuminating the character. Verdi gives Germont some of the opera’s best music and a wonderful theatrical arc, and Mr. Neal took full advantage of the opportunity. His sonorous, mellifluous delivery was marked by beautifully shaped phrases and incisive theatrical insights. Although Trevor’s secure instrument is otherwise totally hooked up, he uncharacteristically had a few passing encounters with a bit of a rasp on topmost G-flats. Small matter, when this fine interpreter dominated his every scene.

As usual, OSJ invested the smaller roles with its usual high standard of meticulous casting. Mason Gates put his fine lyric tenor to good service as Gastone. Baritone Philip Skinner was a memorable, firm-voiced Baron Douphol. Christina Pezzarossi made a notable impression as Flora, with her resonant, smoky mezzo providing ample pleasure. Erin O’Meally’s poised, silvery soprano was well suited to Annina’s gentle phrases. Baritone Babatunde Akinboboye was agile of voice and playful of demeanor as a cavorting Marchese d’Obigny. In true luxury casting bass-baritone Colin Ramsey, who has successfully assumed a number of major roles at OSJ, was a firm-toned Doctor Grenvil.

In the pit, Dennis Doubin whipped up a sprightly, propulsive reading, after the shimmering strings opened the performance with a luminous reading of the prologue. Maestro Doubin led a secure, idiomatically correct rendition that eschewed indulgence in the oom-pah segments of this middle-Verdi opus. Conversely, he luxuriated in the expansive melodies that comprise much of the work. The conductor elicited a cleanly detailed account of Verdi’s masterpiece, even as he lived the drama in admirable collaboration with his vocal soloists. Andrew Whitfield’s well prepared chorus proved a considerable asset in the evening’s success.

Director Shawna Lucy has staged an efficient, cogent presentation that pushes all the right buttons, managing the large populated scenes with skill and imagination, highlighting select minor dramas played out between choristers. She also creates meaningful interactions with her principals, and underscores all the major emotional beats. Shawna gets excellent results from the chorus, and the re-imagined gypsy and toreador choruses in Act III were fresh and topical. The #metoo movement was even meaningfully evoked when, late in Act III, the chorus courtesans suddenly reject male domination in solidarity with Violetta, and forcibly extricate themselves from unwanted relationships. Ms. Lucy was assisted by choreographer Michelle Klaers D’Alo

Eric Flatmo has designed a workable unit set that consists of a raked platform stage left, with a sunken playing space stage right, all of which gets repurposed each act, with telling different set pieces and looks. A large picture window upstage reveals the Eiffel tower, with the exception of Act II when a pastoral setting is projected. Beginning with a copper toned look, this paneled environment's shifting appearance proved a highly effective playing space.

Elizabeth Poindexter’s lavish and character specific costumes provided a sumptuous visual component, abetted by Christina Martin’s comprehensive wig and make-up design. Pamila Z. Gray devised a moody and comprehensive lighting design, with good use of area washes and designated specials.

As this memorable season comes to an end, Opera San Jose has announced their varied slate for 2018-2019 which includesThe Abduction from the Seraglio, Pagliacci, Moby Dick and Madama Butterfly.

James Sohre

Verdi: La traviata

Violetta Valery: Amanda Kingston; Flora Bervoix: Christina Pezzarossi; Annina: Erin O’Meally; Alfredo Germont: Dane Suarez; Giorgio Germont: Trevor Neal; Gastone: Mason Gates; Baron Douphol: Philip Skinner; Marchese d’Obigny: Babatunde Akinboboye; Doctor Grenvil: Colin Ramsey; Giuseppe: Kevin Gino; Guest: Noah DeMoss; Messenger: Lazo Mihajlovich; Conductor: Dennis Doubin; Director: Shawna Lucey; Choreographer: Michelle Klaers D’Alo; Set Design: Eric Flatmo; Costume Design: Elizabeth Poindexter; Lighting Design: Pamila Z. Gray; Wig and Make-up Design: Christina Martin; Chorus Master: Andrew Whitfield

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