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In Review > North America

La Traviata

FAIRFAX, VA
Virginia Opera
3/22/15

Virginia Opera closed its fortieth anniversary season with a satisfying, often touching production of La Traviata that flowed fluently through Robert Little’s economical and pleasantly evocative set. Director Lillian Groag applied many a fresh nuance to the action, sometimes with the simplest of means, as when she turned the sudden stop at the end of the orchestral intro to “Libiamo” into a dash of theater, having someone shushing the guests, as if their noisy chatter had caused the interruption. Cute, even campy bits of humor made the Spanish numbers at Flora’s party unusually engaging. And the final scene contained a good deal of powerful stage business, especially the sight of Violetta standing perfectly still for what seemed an eternity before a truly startling collapse as the curtain fell. Much less convincing was the director’s idea of inserting into several scenes a ghostly group of women wearing what appeared to be bridal gowns, fanning themselves slowly as they paraded across the rear of the stage. 

Musically, there were consistent rewards March 22 at the George Mason University Center for the Arts. This matinee, coming only a little more than 14 hours after a performance the night before, could not have been easy for any of the singers. Cecilia Violetta López, in the title role, encountered tonal scratchiness at the start, especially in the low register, and some droopy intonation as well. But the soprano quickly gathered her vocal resources and etched just about every phrase with incisive flair. With a fast vibrato, a timbre full of rich colors and a vivid touch of squillo at the top, her voice took naturally to Verdi’s music. And López, who cut her vocal teeth on mariachi when she was growing up, demonstrated that she has no difficulty living up to her middle name in dramatic ways, too. Her acting rang true, creating a beautifully layered portrayal of the heroine that included playfully flicking a little champagne in Alfredo’s face with her fingers during the opening scene. López summoned great dignity for the encounter with Germont, bristling at his attempt to touch her, and proved exceptionally affecting through the whole of the last act. As Alfredo, warm-voiced tenor Rolando Sanz offered superb articulation of text and shaped phrases with a refined sense of style. If top notes could have used more freedom and weight, the singing nonetheless hit the lyrical spot. Malcolm MacKenzie, as Germont, was a little short on tonal warmth and variety of dynamics, but he used his weighty baritone eloquently and gave the character a decidedly sympathetic edge. Among the supporting cast, impressive efforts came from Cullen Gandy, whose promising, tender tone and colorful phrasing suggested an Alfredo in the future, and Keith Brown, whose warm bass-baritone helped give Dr. Grenville an extra-comforting bedside manner. The chorus sounded underpowered or uneven at times, but compensated with decidedly animated acting. And, for the most part, the orchestra did polished work as conductor Andrew Bisantz effectively paced the score, applying rubato with particular finesse. spacer 

TIM SMITH

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