Monday, October 5, 2015

Visually stunning Traviata in Philly

I was thrilled on Sunday afternoon to see the second performance of Opera Philadelphia's visually stunning and vocally opulent production of La Traviata. I highly recommend seeing one of the remaining performances.

Lisette Oropesa and company
Photo: Opera Philadelphia
I was surprised to learn Lisette Oropesa, who sings delicious Nanettas and Susannas and Maries (Fille du Regiment) all over the world, would sing Violetta. But I was delighted with the result, both vocally and dramatically. Of course the coloratura sections of Sempre libera sounded easy and fun for Ms. Oropesa, but she also gave Addio del passato the line and gravitas it required, and she held her own in ensembles with other singers. Best of all, we believed her as a young woman who knows her days are numbered and makes choices with that in mind.

Tenor Alek Shrader is also a light voice for Alfredo, but he negotiated the role's challenges well. There were one or two moments when I wanted a meatier sound than Mr. Shrader's sweet lyric tenor, but I can't complain about his vocalism. Neither can I complain about his acting, for he delivered both Alfredo's naive ardor and his wounded rage well. He and Ms. Oropesa had a lovely chemistry together.

Stephen Powell, Lisette Oropesa
Photo:  Opera Philadelphia
I first saw Stephen Powell as Rodrigue in Caramoor's Don Carlos in 2013, and was impressed then. I continue to be impressed, for his singing is highly skilled and his vocal weight is perfect for Giorgio Germont. This Germont was all stiff reserve and manipulation--even in his softer moments in his scene with Violetta one doubted Germont's sincerity. He did seem to come around by the end, however. Once she was dead.

The action is updated to late 1950s Paris. In his Director's Q&A in the program, Paul Curran states this is the most recent time a young lady's match could be threatened by the company her brother keeps. This is true, but it doesn't fully explain why he felt the need to update the setting.

I'm not sure I support this updating from a storytelling viewpoint, but I found the visual effects to be quite beautiful. Mr. Curran, Set and Costume Designer Gary McCann, Lighting Designer Paul Hackenmueller, and Wig and Make-up Designer David Zimmerman have beautifully recreated the time, successfully portraying moods both conservative and licentious. I especially liked the two party scenes. The Act II party scene was very effective, the confrontation and Alfredo's subsequent punishment by party guests very powerful and moving.

Lisette Oropesa, Alek Shrader, following Act II confrontation
Photo:  Opera Philadelphia
The very fine Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus, under the baton of Corrado Rovaris, gave every satisfaction, and then some! A beautiful sound, elegant phrasing, and intelligent musicianship are what we expect from this ensemble, and all of this there was in abundance--plus a great feeling of fun in the parties.

Once again, I highly recommend seeing this show.