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Major Success in La Traviata

San Jose
Opera San Jose
04/15/2000 -  and 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, and 30, April, 5 and 7, May, 2000
Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata
Barbara Divis/Christina Major (Violetta), Thomas Truhitte/Jonathan Hodel (Alfredo), Constantinos Yiannoudes/Roberto Gomez (Germont), Adam Flowers/Jason Black (Gastone), Patrice Houston (Flora), Joseph Wright (Baron Duphol), Monica Barnes (Annina)
Opera San Jose Opera Orchestra and Chorus, David Rohrbaugh (Conductor)
Lorna Haywood (Stage Director)

La Traviata provides ample opportunities for a lyric tenor and a Verdi baritone to prove their mettle, but the opera lives and dies by its heroine and in Opera San Jose’s latest produc tion of the opera, soprano Christina Major brought Verdi’s complex Violetta to vivid life. Her performance alone gave this revival purpose, but the production also offered intelligent direction by Lorna Haywood, Roberto Gomez’s sturdy, robust singing as Germont and John Rathman’s handsome set.
Haywood provided a clean, direct staging to set off librettist Francesco Maria Piave’s clean direct telling of the story of the Parisian courtesan redeemed by the love of Alfredo. Without resorting to fussiness or gimicks, Haywood gave life to the crowd scenes, individuality to the members of the chorus and increasing depth to the relationships among the principal characters. Her only lapse was the inclusion of the bizarre "drag cow" in the second act chorus and dance seqence that opens the second scene.
Several of the supporting cast members contributed outstanding performances. Joseph Wright created a nicely delineated Baron Duphol, youthful and hotheaded. It was easy to see for once how Alfr edo might consider him a rival. As a singer, Wright continues to develop and refine his singing, his already large and robust voice sounding smoother and more at ease at it effortlessly carried over the orchestra.
Patrice Houston’s Flora was a lively party girl with a bawdy streak and lusty energy. Her voice added further to the brassy, fun-loving image.
Tenor Jonathan Hodel made a game attempt at the role of Alfredo, acting and singing with commitment and focus, but he was simply not yet ready for the demands of the role. Uncertain pitch, a pinched top and an unfinished technique made for rough going and stretched his voice beyond its current capabilities. Even without the repeat, the inclusion of the second act cabaletta, "O mio rimoroso! O infamia!" was inexplicable given the current state of Hodel’s vocal development.
Baritone Roberto Gomez was on much surer ground as Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont. Emphasizing the stern implacability of the protective father, Gomez was a tough, unweilding adversary for Violetta to face in the pivotal second act duet. Gomez’s strong baritone sounded at ease in most of the role and handled the more difficult passages with finesse. Only an insistence on singing far too much of the time at a forte level marred this promising young baritone’s performance.
One rarely expects to find a soprano capable of handling the vocal demands of Violetta let alone the probe the depths of the character, but Christina Major managed both to a remarkable degree. In a role notorious for the wide range of vocal skills it demands, Major seemed to go from strength to strength. Aside from a few smudged descending runs, her coloratura was clean, accurate and well shaped. The top is easy and after a few thin top notes early one, sounded remarkably full and integrated into the voice. The middle and lower range is full, warm and beautifully focused with plenty of strength for the dramatic outbursts in Act II and the poignant lyricism of the final act.
Majo r also interacts with her colleagues on stage creating believable, insightful relationships In this she was helped and supported by Haywood’s unobtrusive direction, but Major clearly has the theatrical instincts and skills to convey much of what Verdi created in the role.
Rathman’s set has stood up well in this revival, still smart looking, easily and suitably adapted to the four settings. Barbara Murray’s costumes also still look handsome and flattering, the only exceptions being some of the changes for this production including a scarlet red dress for Flora that does neither flatters the singer nor fits the design scheme.
Aside from a few minor problems, this final offering of Opera San Jose’s season was a splendid production and a tribute to the company’s goal of developing young talent. Major has the potential to become one of the company’s great exports and this production of La Traviata was a fitting showcase for her.

Kelly Snyder



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