In Review > North America

La Traviata

LOS ANGELES
Los Angeles Opera
9/21/14

In Review Los Angeles La Traviata hdl 1214
Domingo and Machaidze, Germont and Violetta at Los Angeles Opera
© Craig T. Mathew 2014

Los Angeles Opera had something special prepared for its opening production of the season — a revival of La Traviata that marked Nino Machaidze’s role debut as Violetta and the local role debut of Plácido Domingo as Germont. In the past six years, the Georgian soprano has become a favorite here, so her Violetta was an eagerly awaited event. Unwisely perhaps, L.A. Opera’s management decided to insert an extra Traviata performance in its calendar, with the result that Machaidze sang the role four times over the first eight days of the run. Not surprisingly, before the fourth of these performances, on September 21, it was announced that she was indisposed but would sing nevertheless. Act I was an uncertain affair: Machaidze’s top displayed its customary warmth and brilliance, but the middle of the range lacked clarity and even audibility. As a result it was difficult to sense any continuity or consistent character in the role, and even the coloratura flourishes of “Sempre libera” were not delivered with ease. In Act II, Machaidze happily found her footing. Her soaring, pathos-laden legato endowed Violetta with an unusual degree of nobility; “Dite alla giovine” was delivered with unparalleled poise and the deepest of feeling, while Violetta’s farewell to Alfredo was sung with a conviction and soaring intensity that magnified the tragic stature of the character. With all signs of vocal fatigue vanished, this Violetta grew in moral strength and vocal prowess as her bodily powers failed. As an actress, Machaidze favors the statuesque, but she introduced sufficient emotional turmoil into Violetta to make her death at the end register as a major loss.

This was a musically distinguished performance. Tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz has a voice that is packed with Italianate lyricism, and there is a pleasingly intimate quality to his singing. The tenor’s boyishness is ideal for Alfredo, who in Chacón-Cruz’s hands oscillated between defiance and total despair; at key moments, such as “Parigi, o cara,” the strength of Alfredo’s emotions came to the fore, so that he led the duet with acute passion. 

Plácido Domingo does not have sufficient darkness in his voice to give Germont père the gravity we expect in the role. Oddly enough, this clarified rather than clouded the character, particularly in his relationship with his son: Domingo’s Germont was an active, rather unlovable man, whose interference really is felt as a cruel imposition. Among the smaller roles, Peabody Southwell’s Flora was a miniature masterpiece, as it mixed the lethal nastiness of the demi-mondaine with moments of sincerest sentiment — the world of La Traviata in a nutshell!

James Conlon, a conductor who favors brisk tempos, maintained a fast pace, but it was never rushed; the febrile, nervous qualities of the music came to the fore. Orchestral dynamics were at times remarkable, especially in the great “Amami, Alfredo” passage. Marta Domingo’s production, revived from 2006, was more concerned with decorating the stage than with interpreting the action. The setting of the flapper era was eye-catching, but it is difficult to imagine anyone in the Roaring Twenties giving two hoots whether the brother of a potential bride is having an affair in the big city or not. Certainly they wouldn’t abandon the bride because of it. As a result, the moral imperative that drives Verdi and Piave’s action disappeared. spacer 

SIMON WILLIAMS

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