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Opera Southwest shines in La traviata

National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Roy Disney Theater
10/24/2021 -  and October 27, 29, 31, 2021
Giuseppe Verdi: La traviata
Sarah Asmar (Violetta Valéry), Kirk Dougherty (Alfredo Germont), Grant Youngblood (Giorgio Germont), Denise Wernly-Alsina (Flora Bervoix), Mary Brzezinski (Annina), Gregory Gallagher (Gastone de Letorières), Ivan Conrad (Barone Douphol), Andrew Polson (Marchese d’Obigny), Javier Ortiz (Dottore Grenvil)
Opera Southwest Chorus, Aaron Howe (Chorus Master), Opera Southwest Orchestra, Anthony Barrese (Conductor)
Dean Anthony (Director), Lois Romberg (Sets), A.T. Jones (Costumes), Will Coeur (Lights)

K. Dougherty & S. Asmar (© SWO)

If sophisticated Santa Fe is recognized as a buzzing artistic hotspot, Albuquerque and its wealth of cultural events should not be overlooked. With Opera Southwest (OSW), a Philharmonic Orchestra (all concerts offer free admission), and several first-class museums, the Duke City has a lot to offer, besides chili peppers and a spectacular Balloon Fiesta.

After a charming La scala di seta last September, Opera Southwest now moves on to a Himalaya of the repertoire. La traviata is one of the most challenging opera for singers, especially for the coveted role of Violetta. OSW manages the climb with style.

Sarah Asmar might not be an authentic lirico spinto soprano but her Violetta is vocally commendable. She fares well in coloratura passages, and the excruciating aria of Act I “Follie, follie...” is appropriately feverish. “Addio del passato...” in Act III is musically and emotionally praiseworthy, and Asmar finally conveys the sense that she is going to die. Overall, her Violetta is generously sung, with some floating piani (“Dite alla giovine...”) and a laudable cantabile.

Kirk Dougherty is a lyrical and ardent Alfredo. His aria “De’miei bollenti spiriti...” is elegant and enthusiastic, but perhaps this tenor would gain in lightening just a little his voice for this part. The arduous cabaletta “Oh mio rimorso...” does not call for excessive bravura. Here, Dougherty makes it sound like a “Di quelle pira...” and the singing lacks the dolcissimo of the ideal Alfredo. Incidentally, all opera singers taking up the role of Alfredo, should watch George Cukor’s 1936 movie Camille, adapted from Alexandre Dumas’La Dame aux camélias, starring Greta Garbo. In the part of Armand, Camille’s lover, Robert Taylor, finds the ideal emotional tone. Had he been an opera singer, he would undoubtedly have reached perfection in Alfredo.

Giorgio Germont's “Di Provenza, il mar, il suol...” is sung with the required sentimentality of a self-righteous, bourgeois father. It is far from being Verdi's best baritone aria, but its melodious simplicity pleases all audiences. Grant Youngblood garners substantial applause.

All supporting roles are held with talent: Denise Wernly-Alsina (Flora Bervoix), Mary Brzezinski (Annina), Gregory Gallagher (Gastone), Ivan Conrad Douphol), Andrew Polson (d’Obigny), Javier Ortiz (Dottore Grenvil).

This production is classical, costumes are bright and sparkling, and props, rather than sets, efficiently describe the changes of locations. The ball at Flora’s is minimally choreographed, but it is colorful, with gaudy crinolines offering all nuances of red and admirably depicting the Paris demimonde.

From the first bar, the strings do justice to the foreboding Adagio. The serene melancholy is palpable, and we know from the very start that we have an orchestra up for the challenge. The sound coming from the pit is pristine all throughout. At the onset of Act III, we can count on Maestro Barrese and his strings (and oboe) to deliver again. The poignant Andante repeats the opening bar of the score: it is musically convincing and one of the high-standard moments of this performance. The conducting is firm and concise, which inevitably leads to some moments of irreprehensible stiffness. The Southwest Opera Chorus is also well prepared; the brindisi and the second tableau of Act II are executed with panache.

Standing ovation for all.

Opera Southwest Albuquerque

Christian Dalzon



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