Saturday, March 28, 2015

Review: 'La Traviata'

Virginia Opera
Andrew Bisantz conducting
March 27, Richmond CenterStage

Verdi’s “La Traviata,” the work with which Virginia Opera made its debut in 1975, concludes its 40th anniversary season on a very high note. From casting and direction to scenery and costumes, this production is almost faultless.

Soprano Cecilia Violetta López, portraying Violetta, the Parisian courtesan turned self-sacrificing lover, and tenor Rolando Sanz, as Alfredo Germont, the young man with whom Violetta falls in love, boast powerful, flexible voices. Their ability to bring nuance to character and emotion makes their duets fully entwined musically and dramatically, as well as bringing more than brilliance to their solo arias. López’s acting is comparably nuanced.

Malcolm Mackenzie, as Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, who persuades Violetta to abandon her lover for the sake of family honor, ultimately to bitterly regret his success, brings far more dimension to this character than audiences normally see and hear. Mackenzie establishes his presence and authority as the paterfamilias in a big, commanding baritone, then reins it in most effectively in Giorgio’s Act 2 duet and the Act 3 death-scene ensemble.

With leads of such quality, this hardy perennial of operatic melodrama cuts much deeper than usual.

The supporting cast – Courtney Miller (Flora), Ashley Kerr (Annina), Cullen Gandy (Gastone), Andre Chiang (Baron Duphol), Matthew Scollin (Marchese d’Obigny) – and chorus live up to the leads’ standards of vocalization and characterization.

Stage director Lillian Groag crafts a straightforward “Traviata” whose drama is driven by story and music, and never over-driven. In the ball scenes, Groag shows her mastery at getting a crowd to genuinely act. The only real directorial intervention on traditional staging is a foursome of white-gowned ghost figures, simultaneously evoking Violetta’s glamorous past and tragic fate.

Visually, this co-production of Virginia Opera and Des Moines Metro Opera adheres to the decorous 19th-century French Empire style of a traditional “Traviata,” with some helpful post-modern modifications, chiefly a brighter color palette and skeletal structural elements that make the set look less claustrophobic than the typical representation of a Parisian salon.

Conductor Andrew Bisantz, leading a pit orchestra drawn from the Richmond Symphony, realizes the pathos in Verdi’s score to striking effect, while giving free rein to festive and dramatically charged sequences – too free, occasionally, in the first of two Richmond performances, as brassy stretches of orchestration overbalanced voices.

Virginia Opera “La Traviata” repeats at 2:30 p.m. March 29 at the Carpenter Theatre of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $20.33-$105.93. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX). The run concludes with performances at 8 p.m. April 11 and 2:30 p.m. April 12 at the Sandler Arts Center, 201 S. Market St., in Virginia Beach. Tickets: $19-$89. Details: (866) 673-7282;