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La Traviata Makes the Rounds to Glimmerglass

Cooperstown (Alice Busch Theater)
07/07/2019 -  & July 15,* 21, 27, 30, August 4, 8, 10, 13, 16, 19, 24, 2019
Giuseppe Verdi: La traviata
Amanda Woodbury (Violetta), Schyler Vargas (Marquis d’Obigny), Lindsay Metzger (Flora), Jonathan Bryan (Baron Douphol), Kameron Lopreore (Gastone), Kang Wang (Alfredo), Bryn Holdsworth (Annina), Adrian Timpau (Germont), Wm. Clay Thompson (Doctor Grenvil), Aaron Crouch (Giuseppe), Allen Michael Jones (Messenger), Peter Morgan (Flora’s Servant)
Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus, Joseph Colaneri (conductor)
Francesca Zambello (production), Peter J. Davison (sets), Jess Goldstein (costumes), Mark McCullough (lights), Andrea Beasom (choreography)

No one can accuse Glimmerglass’s general director Francesca Zambello of recklessness in choosing her own recent production of this enduring Verdi favorite to open this year’s Festival, a bucolic opera extravaganza in the remote reaches of upstate New York centered around four fully staged productions. A seeming sell-out, La Traviata’s second performance on July 15 augurs well for a generous run of a dozen shows between now and late August.

Zambello’s new effort, which premiered at Washington National Opera (where she is also artistic director) last October but was constructed here last summer, has some claim to elegance. For unexplained reasons, she decided to update the opera’s Parisian setting to the early twentieth century, an era known for its flamboyance and color, a world made by and for the bon vivant and the grande horizontale. With heartrending issues of sacrificial love and tragically fruitless reconciliation driving La Traviata’s plot, the change of idiom seemed out of place. The Belle Epoque looked beautiful, but it had largely left sentimentality behind in the dour mid-nineteenth century, which gave birth to both the opera and the Alexandre Dumas novel upon which it was based. Viewing scenes of old-fashioned Romantic love in what could pass for Maxim’s, it evoked Colette’s Gigi without the cynical humor and Cole Porter’s Can-Can without the oversexed whimsy. Proustian heartlessness seemed consigned to a parallel universe in which romance never became a game or love a bad joke.

A. Woodbury (© Karli Cadel)

The crowd was pleased by Alfredo’s Act II entrance with a brace of hunting dogs, and other moments have been reengineered since the Washington premiere. During Violetta’s first act cabaletta “Sempre libera,” Alfredo no longer steals back on stage through revolving panels in the set, a misplaced effect that drew attention away from Violetta’s raptured infatuation, but instead loiters outside beyond her windows. Alfredo’s lines are meant to stimulate and enhance Violetta’s, rather than dully augment them. More successful was the opera’s opening scene. To the strains of its musical introduction, which tells the story in reverse, we see Violetta in her final act hospital bed roused back to life through the memory of happier times. The music fits the progression perfectly, and the production’s original feint toward gallows humor, when her maid shoes away gurney bearers who have come for Violetta’s body despite her not being dead quite yet, is mercifully absent from the Glimmerglass staging.

The cast was young, featuring singers at the cusp of what could be major careers. The exquisite soprano Amanda Woodbury, who has sung the role in San Antonio and recently performed notably as a Rhine Maiden in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung, commanded the part with clarion sounds and true dramatic allure, morphing from Act I’s seductive coquette to the seriously enamored heroine of Act II to the devastated fallen woman of the opera’s title, which the final act so plaintively demands. Tenor Kang Wang fared less well as her Alfredo, favoring his head voice throughout the performance. His first act singing sounded a bit stilted, with Woodbury frequently overwhelming him in ardor as well as volume. In Act II he took greater care with the introductory aria “Dei miei bollenti spiriti,” though the high note at the end rattled out with an unfortunate shriek. Only in the final act was the singing more pleasant. Adrian Timpau sang a stolid Germont, his role debut, with a solid technique that is well on its way to becoming more refined. Glimmerglass’s Young Artists Program staffed the supporting roles with an ensemble of focused and energetic young performers.

Maestro Joseph Colaneri led a generally well-paced performance, though he did Timpau few favors with a languid tempo for Germont’s comforting fatherly aria “Di Provenza il mar.” Transposing the Act I accompaniment of Violetta and Alfredo’s banter to high strung party dance music departed from the score in a way that might not have been the wisest approach. Atlanta, Seattle, and Indiana University share this colorful production and will bring at least its visual joys to publics there.

Paul du Quenoy



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