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Valenti and Papatanasiu, Alfredo and Violetta in Dallas
© Karen Almond/Dallas Opera 2012
Dallas Opera offered its audience a conventional Traviata (seen Apr. 13) — a coproduction with Florida Grand Opera and Cincinnati Opera — in which fabric was as much a star as any singer. Yards and yards of plush drapery and costumes dazzled the audience's eyes even more than the music and the singing impressed their ears. Stage director Bliss Hebert and production designer Allen Charles Klein filled the stage of the Winspear Opera House with a hothouse recreation of nineteenth-century Paris, a perfect match for basically conservative Dallas tastes. Thomas Hase's dramatic lighting embellished Klein's sumptuous costumes — Flora's masquerade party was a study in blood-red and crimson — to perfection. Marco Guidarini coaxed a properly eerie, sobbing shimmer from the violins in the preludes to Acts I and III and maintained a brisk pace throughout the evening, occasionally moving faster than his singers, as in "De' miei bollenti spiriti" and "Dite alla giovine."
Making her U.S. debut, Myrtò Papatanasiu, a beautiful Greek soprano, put many in mind of another beautiful Greek soprano — and one-time Dallas favorite — who made Violetta a signature role. Full, forte top notes, abundant coloratura, a strong vibrato and a reckless way of throwing herself into the music made Papatanasiu a compelling coquette, alert to both the pleasures and the perils of her dangerous life. For her Act I solo finale, her voice, as it should, did the work of Violetta's heart. In the cabaletta, Papatanasiu made the steep vocal descent seem like a knife thrust; after hearing Alfredo's offstage voice, she resumed with even more animal intensity and febrile self-destructiveness.
Like all great Violettas, Papatanasiu is capable of tenderness as well as fierceness. Launching into "Dite alla giovine," she held an "Ah!" with a long breath that made one hear Violetta's realization that leads into her announcement of self-sacrifice. Act III's "Addio del passato" brought out the best in the singer, as the soft, dreamy opening bars gave way to the heroic "Ah, della traviata sorridi al desio."
Papatanasiu's Alfredo, American tenor James Valenti, sang with polish and power throughout the evening — "Parigi, o cara" was especially sweet at mezzo forte — although the Act I love scene seemed dramatically dutiful rather than passionate, with "addio"s that sounded more like a challenge than the resisted farewell of a pair of young lovers.
Making his Dallas Opera debut, Laurent Naouri sang Giorgio Germont with more tenderness than gruffness: his Act II confrontation with Papatanasiu's Violetta was in many ways the extended dramatic highpoint of the evening. The wounded, loose woman and the haughty, conventional father barely looked at each other throughout the exchange. When they finally turned to each other, after "Dite alla giovine," they demonstrated — heartbreakingly — both worldly wisdom and human sympathy. In Naouri's show-stopping "Di Provenza," sung to the pleasure-loving son he is trying to return to respectability, his creamy voice made Germont's self-serving, guilt-inducing plea seductively irresistible, at least to the ears of the audience.
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