Verdi’s “La Traviata” in San Francisco

Aurelia Florian as Violetta Valéry and Atalla Ayan as Alfredo Germont in Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

LA TRAVIATA
Music by Giuseppe Verdi | Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Sung in Italian with English supertitles

S.F. Opera’s ‘Traviata’ Reflects Well on the Company

By Janos Gereben

Halfway through its Fall 2017 season, San Francisco Opera is doing well, and there is nothing faint about that praise. Having committed to the multi-million dollar/all-resources-in-play production of the Wagner “Ring” next summer, General Director Matthew Shilvock is dealing with a challenge of “operatic proportions.”

Besides various economic measures including some reorganization/reduction of staff, Shilvock (with General Manager Emeritus David Gockley) opted for a fall season of five operas, including revivals of two great warhorses – Puccini’s “Turandot” and Verdi’s “La traviata” – new productions for Richard Strauss’ “Elektra” and Massenet’s “Manon,” and the commissioned world premiere of John Adams’ “Girls of the Golden West.”

Three down of five, the balance sheet is decidedly in positive territory, spurred especially by a musically-vocally superb “Elektra,” along with spiffed-up revivals of “Turandot” (David Hockney’s grand but aged sets shining bright, Ian Falconer’s apparently deep-cleaned costumes fabulous), and now, on Saturday, “Traviata” to the fore.

Outdoing even the quarter-century old Hockney house “Turandot,” the splendid John Copley/John Conklin “Traviata” has the mileage of 30 years on it, this being the seventh mounting in the War Memorial. And yet and yet… the romantic, picturesque production, in Shawna Lucey’s direction, is beyond “fine.”

In the pit, under the direction of the company’s outgoing music director, Nicola Luisotti, the SFO Orchestra — so brilliant in “Elektra” — provided on opening night a propulsive accompaniment to “Traviata,” barely pulling back in such traditionally quiet passages as the preludes to the first and third acts. As is usual with Luisotti, the orchestra rarely “stepped on” the singers. When it came to Ian Robertson’s SFO Chorus, on fire all evening, even without the conductor’s reins, they just could not be attenuated — a good thing.

Aurelia Florian as Violetta Valéry in Verdi’s “La Aurelia Florian as Violetta Valéry in Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

There were debuts in three leading roles, and the focus of attention was on the title role, sung by Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian. She did something theoretically impossible, getting a second chance to make a first impression. Her Violetta in the beginning — and she pretty much sings through the first act — was problematic. With a big voice, a powerful projection, and scant attention to diction, Florian overwhelmed with force, short on beauty of tone, not quite  making connection with the listener.

But then, in the action-packed second act (two scenes with a brief pause), Florian did better, especially in lyrical passages, and by the third act, she overcame that less-than-favorable first impression.

Brazilian tenor Atalla Ayan’s debut as Alfredo was more even, but it too improved along the evening. It’s not a big voice, but adequate for the role, and it’s quite beautiful. Acting is elementary and sufficient, at times hitting high notes of its own.

The Germont is Polish baritone Artur Rucinski, with the most consistent performance on opening night. The voice is broad and warm, his stage presence is impressive throughout.

Others in the cast are current or former Adler Fellows: Renée Rapier as Flora, Amitai Pati as Gastone, Philip Skinner as Baron Douphol, Anthony Reed as Doctor Grenvil, Andrew G. Manea as Marquis d’Obigny, Amina Edris as Annina. Former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Lorena Feijoo is making her SFO debut in Carola Zertuche’s choreography.

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A review by Janos Gereben, who also reviews for Opera West, is in Classical Voice North America
Janos Gereben writes for San Francisco Classical Voice and San Francisco Examiner. His email is [email protected]

Atalla Ayan as Alfredo Germont in Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

PERFORMANCES
Saturday 09/23/17 7:30PM
Tuesday 09/26/17 7:30PM
Thursday 09/28/17 7:30PM
Sunday 10/01/17 2:00PM
Tuesday 10/03/17 7:30PM
Friday 10/06/17 7:30PM
Sunday 10/08/17 2:00PM
Wednesday 10/11/17 7:30PM
Saturday 10/14/17 7:30PM
Tuesday 10/17/17 7:30PM

CAST
Violetta Valéry: Aurelia Florian *
Alfredo Germont: Atalla Ayan *
Giorgio Germont: Artur Ruciński *
Flora Bervoix: Renée Rapier
Gastone: Amitai Pati
Baron Douphol: Philip Skinner
Doctor Grenvil: Anthony Reed
Marquis d’Obigny: Andrew G. Manea
Annina: Amina Edris
Solo Dancer: Lorena Feijóo *
Solo Dancer: Blanche Hampton
Solo Dancer: Bryan Ketron

Aurelia Florian as Violetta Valéry and Atalla Ayan as Alfredo Germont in Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

PRODUCTION
Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Production: John Copley
Stage Director: Shawna Lucey
Set Designer: John Conklin
Lighting Designer: Gary Marder
Chorus Director: Ian Robertson
Choreographer: Carola Zertuche *
Costume Designer: David Walker
Fight Director: Dave Maier
* San Francisco Opera debut

A San Francisco Opera production

PERFORMANCES
September 23, 26, 28; October 1, 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 2017

TICKETS

A scene from Act I of Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

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