Monday, May 4, 2015

Parisian courtesans in Fort Worth! Call the National Guard!

On Sunday I saw my third opera of the Fort Worth Opera Festival, Mr. Verdi's beloved La Traviata. After the very disturbing Dog Days and the unattractive update of Hamlet's setting, this sumptuous traditional production of one of my favorites was balm for my weary soul. Sets and costumes were by Desmond Heeley, and “sumptuous” just begins to describe the luxurious look of the first three acts and the faded luxury in the last act.

Patrick O'Halloran, Rachelle Durkin, and company
Photo courtesy Fort Worth Opera
In the opening party scene one is first impressed by what a good time everyone seems to be having. This was no stand-and-sing operatic party scene, but one where the guests interrelated, chased each other across the stage, allowed themselves to be caught and molested, and I do believe I saw at least one face slapped. I might be imagining the last part, but wouldn't have been surprised to see it! For this I credit director David Gately and a very spirited chorus and group of supernumeraries. The chorus, prepared by Chorus Master Stephen Dubberly, sounded great in spite of all their frenetic activities. It's very unusual for me to lead off with the chorus and the director before mentioning any of the principals, which should be an indication of the strong impression made by the first scene.

Rachelle Durkin as Violetta
Photo courtesy Fort Worth Opera
Not to suggest the chorus outshone the principals. What is La Traviata without a great Violetta? In Rachelle Durkin we had quite a stunning actress and singer. Although her voice is light for the role, in my opinion, she negotiated its demands very well. (Her web site lists a very wide range of roles, from Marie in Fille du Regiment to Donna Anna.) Again I must credit director David Gately and Miss Durkin's acting ability for convincing me that "Sempre libera" is a cry of desperation, not defiance. She dares not hope for the love that Alfredo is offering, and her tears as she sings about living just for joy are real. In Act II, Miss Durkin's scene with the elder Germont had this bitter old critic in tears.

The elder Germont was sung very beautifully by Nicholas Pallesen. He played Germont in Act II as a manipulative jerk (stronger language comes to mind) who conveys just the right affectionate words and actions to get what he wants. Another skillful touch that I credit to Mr. Gately. Violetta believes his shallow, seemingly insincere gestures of paternal love, and the contrast in how the two understood what was occurring contributed greatly to the tears I mention above. (In his defense, Germont does seem genuinely remorseful and loving in Act IV. Just before Violetta dies.) Mr. Pallesen's singing is rich and even and powerful—just what one wants from a Verdi baritone.

Patrick O'Halloran and Rachelle Durkin
Photo courtesy Fort Worth Opera
I regret that I can not report in such glowing terms on the Alfredo of Patrick O'Halloran. Although I reported in these pages in 2013 that I liked his singing in Glimmerglass Opera's production of King for a Day—when he got warmed up—it almost seemed as if he never got warmed up as Alfredo. His sound is somewhat veiled, occasionally yell-y. Although many of his top notes were nice, the upper middle and passaggio area bothered me. Mr. O'Halloran was the only principal who seemed at odds with the conductor's baton. He seemed to be throwing about new ideas about tempi the conductor knew nothing about. I will add, however, that in both King for a Day and in the present La Traviata, I have no complaints about his acting. The young man does know how to throw himself into a role.

Many small roles were populated with Fort Worth Opera Studio Artists. Clara Nieman was a spirited Flora, and Maren Weinberger a very concerned and devoted Annina. Brian Wallin was a devoted and somewhat puckish friend to Violetta as Gaston. Matt Moeller was an appropriately angry Baron Duophol. (I look forward to seeing Mr. Wallin and Ms. Weinberger as Glimmerglass Young Artists when I visit that festival in July.)

Once again Joe Illick deserved the shouts of "Bravo!" for his leadership of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in conducting this performance. Once again I praise his sensitive phrasing, his loving way of following singers, and his stylistic instincts. Mr. Dubberly and his chorus again deserve high praise.

Director Mr. Gately and the design team of Mr. Heeley, Steven Bryant (makeup and wigs), and Chad R. Jung (lighting) also deserve high praise. I might question Germont's Act II costume, which didn't seem to fit him at all, but otherwise the show was visually stunning.

Nearly every element of this show deserves praise, and I recommend without reservation seeing the final performance on May 9.

No comments: