Los Angeles Opera Revives and Refreshes Its “La Traviata”


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Los Angeles Opera’s La Traviata

Review by David Gregson: Los Angeles, May 22, 2009

This is essentially the 2006 Los Angeles Opera production widely circulated on DVD and Blu-ray. The stars that glittered then in this Marta Domingo directed show were Renée Fleming (Violetta), Rolando Villazon (Alfredo Germont) and Renato Bruson (Alfredo’s father, Giorgio).

One could argue that the new 2009 cast, at least until it changes again in weeks to come, is superior to the one featured in the video; however, it’s all a highly subjective matter. I adore both Villazon and Fleming (depending on what they’re singing, of course), but for my money (and for the moment), it’s hard to beat Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya and Italian tenor Massimo Giordano as “Traviata’s” much-beloved dysfunctional couple, and while Bruson was once one of the great singers, age has caught up with his voice, so Polish baritone, Andrzej Dobber, has an edge over him as Germont.

This cast will change soon and that information appears below.

While lacking the showy high notes that Sutherland and Sills could toss off to tremendous applause, Poplavskaya has the basic range and agility required to bring off Act One’s “Sempre libera” without coming to grief, and her large, beautiful tone, matched by her considerable acting skills, is wonderfully suited to the rest of the role. Hers is a moving, very well sung Violetta. She extracts just the right amount of pathos from every moment, even collapsing on the floor after a heart-wrenching “Addio del passato”. The famous and very beautiful “Dite alla giovine” was especially moving.

Poplavskaya is well matched by Giordano who sings with that ardent bell-like clarity that the best Italian singers seem to be gifted with. This assures some ringing “libiamo’s” and dramatic intensity in his furious confrontation with Violetta at Madame Flora’s house – or should I say Flora’s bordello/casino from the looks of scenery designer Giovanni Agostinucci’s whorehouse-red flocked walls punctuated by huge Mucha-esque female nudes.

Dobber, by the way, is rather low-key and subdued vocally. Act Two’s “Di Provenza il mar” aria is not the show stopper many famous baritones have made it, and the voice is outclassed by many one hears on great recordings – and yet he cuts a totally convincing figure as Alfredo’s father, first disapproving, then irate, and ultimately guilt ridden. The smooth sound of his voice is gently caressing; I do wonder, however, how well it projects into the large house. I had the good fortune to be seated close up where I love to be whenever possible.

The highly admired conductor James Colon (on the DVD/Blu-ray disc) was absent upon this occasion, replaced quite competently though not remarkably by LAO associate conductor Grant Gershon. Verdi’s “giant guitar” sounded a little rough in places. The choral contributions, however, were first rate, thanks to the very same Gershon who also serves LAO’s chorus master.

Flora’s place, of course, features dancing gypsies, visiting bullfighters, and one exciting flamenco dancer, in this case soloist Timo Nuňez. All of this under the serviceable direction of choreographer Kitty McNamee.

The production is indeed “opulent” as advertised, although several more opulent ones exist elsewhere in time and space – and Marta Domingo’s stage direction brings solid comfort to those who are tired of being outraged by excessive innovations. Violetta’s carnival hallucination (a dancing figure on a cloud of mist) is added in the death scene, but this sort of thing does very minor damage. An old Ponnelle production once brought all the street revelers straight into the bedroom.

Highly recommended. This soprano is one everybody will want to hear soon!

(5/21, 5/27, 5/30, 6/3, 6/6) Marina Poplavskaya
(6/10, 6/14, 6/21) Elizabeth Futral
(5/21, 5/27, 5/30) Massimo Giordano
(6/3m, 6/6, 6/10, 6/13, 6/14m, 6/21m) Alexey Dolgov
(5/21, 5/27, 5/30, 6/3, 6/6) Andrzej Dobber
(6/10, 6/14, 6/21) Stephen Powell
GASTONE: Hak Soo Kim
FLORA BERVOIX: Margaret Thompson
MARQUIS D’OBIGNY: Daniel Armstrong
BARON DOUPHOL: Philip Cokorinos
ANNINA: Erica Brookhyser
GIUSEPPE: James Callon
A MESSENGER: Reid Bruton
FLORA’S SERVANT: Robert Hovencamp

CONDUCTOR: Grant Gershon
DIRECTOR: Marta Domingo
DESIGNER: Giovanni Agostinucci

2 hours and 50 minutes
including two intermissions
One hour prior to each performance.
Lecture by Paul Floyd

Thursday May 21, 2009 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday May 27, 2009 7:30 p.m.
Saturday May 30, 2009 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday June 3, 2009 1:00 p.m.
Saturday June 6, 2009 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday June 10, 2009 7:30 p.m.
Sunday June 14, 2009 2:00 p.m.
Sunday June 21, 2009 2:00 p.m.


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