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Pérez and Costello in Cincinnati’s Traviata
© Cincinnati Opera/Philip Groshong 2012
Cincinnati Opera wrapped up its 2012 season with a solid, satisfying Traviata (seen July 26). The production, borrowed from Lyric Opera of Chicago, was comfortably traditional, with lavish yet muted sets and costumes. Director Jose Maria Condemi kept things generally simple and straightforward; during the prelude to the final act, a spotlight on Violetta’s dress from the first scene recalled earlier times. The performing edition was what seems to be standard issue these days — a single verse of “O mio rimorso,” one of “Addio del passato,” no cabaletta for Germont in Act II.
What moved this Traviata beyond highly competent routine were the fine performances of Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello, the husband-and-wife team singing Violetta and Alfredo. A strikingly beautiful woman, Pérez is eminently suited to Violetta, not only physically but vocally. Her dark-tinged voice conveys tragedy, and she has the flexibility to bring off “Sempre libera,” which she capped with an E-flat on opening night. It was in the subsequent acts, though, that she particularly excelled, spinning out a thread of sound in “Dite alla giovine” and summoning powerful desperation in her pleas to Alfredo that he love her. Pérez’s voice took on an appropriate pallor in the final act, regaining vibrancy in the imagined recovery of her final moments.
Alfredo offers fewer bravura opportunities, but Costello made an appealing figure of him. He has a clear, attractive tenor, and the emotional directness of his singing is apt for this uncomplicated character. Costello sang the brindisi cleanly, though his legato was occasionally compromised when he attacked a note very slightly beneath the pitch (a sort of mini-scoop).
Marco Caria, who was singing his first Germont, seemed disengaged from the action (possibly a directorial choice), even in the final scene. However, he sang nobly, bringing bel canto elegance to Germont’s old-fashioned pronouncements and even observing the repeated “ma” in the phrase “Ma se alfin ti trovo ancor” near the end of “Di Provenza.” With more experience, he should prove a fine exponent of the part.
The briefer roles were all strongly cast. Jonathan Stinson did not make Baron Douphol seem a particularly imposing rival, but he showed a promising voice. Kenneth Shaw was an excellent Marquis d’Obigny. Also impressive were Stacey Rishoi (a rich-voiced Flora) and Claude Cassion (a resonant Doctor Grenvil).
Conductor Carlo Montanaro, making his Cincinnati Opera debut, tended toward quick tempos — Violetta’s guests departed very briskly in Act I, and Costello would have benefited from more opportunities to shade Alfredo’s “De’ miei bollenti spiriti” — but the music was shaped gracefully, and there was plenty of breathing room in the important Act II exchanges between Violetta and Germont. The balance between singers and orchestra was exemplary. It is a luxury to have the Cincinnati Symphony in the pit, the transparency of the string playing in the preludes being especially welcome. Choral work was outstanding as well, particularly the brief offstage chorus in the final act, which was taken at a virtuoso clip.
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