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An Entertaining Traviata in Montreal

Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts
05/04/2024 -  & May 7, 9, 12, 14, 2024
Giuseppe Verdi: La traviata
Talise Trevigne (Violetta), Antoine Bélanger (Alfredo), James Westman (Germont), Ilanna Starr (Flora), Geoffrey Schellenberg (Marquis d’Obigny), Angelo Moretti (Gastone), Chelsea Kolic (Annina), Mikelis Rogers (Baron Douphol), Jean‑Philippe Mc Clish (Doctor Grenvil), Jaime Sandoval (Giuseppe)
Chœur de l’Opéra de Montréal, Claude Webster (chorus master), Orchestre Métropolitain, Jordan de Souza (conductor)
Alain Gauthier (stage director), Christina Poddubiuk (sets and costumes), Claude Kevin Lamotte (lighting)

(© Opéra de Montréal)

Opéra de Montréal is ending its 2023-24 season with Verdi’s La Traviata, co‑produced with Edmonton Opera, Manitoba Opera, Vancouver Opera and Pacific Opera Victoria. It began touring Canada in 2018, but its final destination of Montreal was postponed twice due to Covid‑19. It’s 1853 premiere at Venice’s La Fenice (The Phoenix) was generally considered a failure, not due to the music or libretto but to the cast, especially Fanny Salvini-Donatelli, who brought jeers from the audience for her sorry attempts to portray the dying Violetta. Furthermore, fearing the censors would object to the scandalous subject matter, La Fenice decided to forego the contemporary costumes Verdi required, and set the action in the 17th century of Louis XIV. It became the success it deserved, however, when it was restaged in the following year at another Venice theatre—the Teatro S. Benedetto, with contemporary costumes and a better cast.

This “Canadian” production was set in the “Années folles” of 1920 Paris. The reasons for trying to better composers’ intentions by setting the action in different epochs is often beyond my comprehension, or flimsy at best. In this instance, the stage director, Alain Gauthier, saw parallels between Violetta and the singer, dancer, and human rights activist Josephine Baker (strong charactered, successful). But as far as I understand, Baker was never a courtesan.

Act I therefore opened with Violetta dressed as Josephine Baker. She entered, presumably after a performance, sporting a white, feathered headdress while descending a long, curved staircase from a wide gallery to her dressing room. Fortunately, her dressing room was large enough to easily contain about 50 singers.

Despite these asides, this is an enjoyable, satisfying production. Saturday’s performance began with a jauntily-paced tempo from conductor Jordan de Sousa and the Orchestre Métropolitain (of which Yannick Nézet‑Séguin is Principal Conductor), as well as impressive, powerful singing from the chorus. Indeed, the chorus, decked out in a glittering array of styles, fabrics and colors was arguably the highlight of the evening. With the celebrated Brindisi (drinking song), “Libiamo ne’ liete calici”, American soprano Talise Trevigne as Violetta and Canadian tenor Antoine Bélanger quickly established themselves à la hauteur of their roles both vocally and dramatically. Trevigne’s strong, soaring soprano, with a modicum of vibrato, rose to a silkily smooth coloratura in her effortless rendition of “Sempre libera”. Bélanger opened in good voice with “Un dì, felice, eterea” but bloomed as the opera progressed.

Canadian baritone James Westman, as Giorgio Germont, stood out in the second act. His deftly executed duets with both Violetta and Alfredo were sung with conviction and sensitivity, especially with Violetta in “Piangi, o misera”. The chorus again shone in the last scenes of the act (particularly in the exhilarating matador scene), set in the townhouse of Violetta’s friend Flora. The exciting United States/Canadian mezzo‑soprano Ilanna Starr performed Flora with intensity and verve.

Act 3, set in Violetta’s bedroom (one set served admirably for the three acts), brought the opera to an affecting conclusion. It would be hard to beat Trevigne’s interpretation of the dying heroine. She ran the gamut of emotions from loving, distraught to hopeful with convincing sensitivity.

Of the other roles, the most satisfying voice belonged to Canadian bass-baritone Jean‑Philippe Mc Clish, a former member of Opéra de Montréal’s celebrated Atelier lyrique—its training arm for young singers. His dark, deep, velvety voice, without a hint of vibrato, was captivating. He should go far.

A note regarding the opera’s advertising poster and program cover. It depicts a large woman in contemporary (yes, yet another epoch) dress. She is sitting in an armchair while posing her left hand on the head of a young man reclining on a floor. He rests his head in her lap. The caption reads: “Self‑love Will Never Break Your Heart”. Go figure.

Earl Arthur Love



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