In Review > North America

La Traviata

PHILADELPHIA
Opera Philadelphia
10/9/15

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Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) in Act I of Paul Curran’s production of La Traviata at Opera Philadelphia
Photographs by Kelly & Massa
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Alfredo (Alek Shrader) returns to Violetta's bedside
Photographs by Kelly & Massa
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Jarrett Ott and Katherine Pracht as the Marchese and Flora in Act II's ball scene
Photographs by Kelly & Massa

GIVEN THE CITY'S RECENT Papal visit, Opera Philadelphia would have done well to drape the festive Academy of Music with a banner stating, “Habemus Violetta.” To judge from her first attempt at the role (heard Oct. 9), Lisette Oropesa bids fair to be among its great exponents in her generation. The New Orleans-born soprano certainly can boast the face and figure for the part; but her voice has developed in terms of scope and carrying power, as witness her success as Amalia (I Masnadieri) in Washington last year. As Violetta, without betraying her appealing personal timbre, Oropesa generated tonal strength sufficient for everything save, perhaps, for “Amami, Alfredo.” Oropesa and Stephen Powell, her excellent Germont, were consistently audible in ensembles over Elizabeth Braden’s fine chorus. But volume is hardly the only key to Violetta. Oropesa manifested secure technical chops—trills, staccati, pinpoint dynamics and—most impressively—a long, sustained line that allowed her to hold the audience breathless in both “Dite alla giovine” and the party scene ensembles. Her quicksilver tone aptly combined appealing girlish purity with lightly charged sensuality.

One seasoned operagoer complained that Oropesa “didn’t dig deep enough in the words.” Having heard several justly famous sopranos underline every phrase of this iconic text, I’ve come to feel that the most satisfying Violettas I‘ve seen were those that enacted the role not in Dialogue with Tradition but as if living it in the moment: Patricia Brooks, Nelly Miricioiu and Mary Dunleavy. Oropesa joins that number, balancing urbane flirtatiousness with hard-earned love and eventual desperation. She didn’t chew up the text veristically; she just seemed to be Violetta, especially in duet with the masterful Powell, (deliberately) stiff in demeanor but dispensing firm legato lines and finely honed dynamics. Both singers were cheered to the echo, as was Corrado Rovaris and his orchestra. 

Alek Shrader’s Alfredo proved more problematic; his gifts of musicality, linguistic accuracy and thoughtfully impulsive acting were welcome; but his timbre—an excellent fit for Handel—has little of the “red wine and sunshine” quality needed here; the top sounded alternately pressured and detached (with some white-voiced crooning in duet with Violetta). Louder moments distorted his tone. Wig and costuming unexpectedly left the appealing Shrader looking ordinary next to an exceptionally camera-ready male comprimario cast. Two legato-based singers stood out: Daniel Mobbs made a suave, never overplayed Baron and Jarrett Ott an omnisexual, groping Marquis who got shirtless in the party scene. Meanwhile, the incisive Katherine Pracht, styled in pants and top hat, made a fascinating study of Flora Bervoix. Annina’s music gave Rachel Sterrenberg, a fine soprano from Curtis Institute, little chance to shine, but she garnered sympathy.

Paul Curran’s production stemmed from Bucharest. Without much damage to the story, he set it in the dawn of DeGaulle’s Fifth Republic, with a princess phone and ‘50s dance steps and (less freshly) lots of Ray-Bans for Flora’s party. Germont’s moral misgivings presumably stemmed from his status as provincial haut-bourgeois. If so, Curran allowed one misstep: no one reacted to Germont’s self-identification as Alfredo’s father—how would Flora’s guests have known who this outsider was?  Gary McCann’s outfits for Oropesa and Pracht were terrific; less, if not cripplingly so, his doorframe-composite wall units and Arabella-surplus staircase. But overall Curran traced a satisfying arc, powered memorably by OP’s world-class Violetta and Germont. —David Shengold 

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