Company stages winning `Traviata'

Review: Zvetelina Vassileva's exceptionally fine Baltimore Opera performance of Violetta achieved all the role's emotional demands -- there were even some audience sniffles.

November 15, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The central problem in casting Verdi's "La Traviata" is that of the central character herself. In Violetta, the composer created a role that tests a soprano's voice, style and dramatic range. She needs technical brilliance for Act I, lyric beauty in Act II, and the powers of a tragedian in the final scene. One hardly needs to add that she must also be musician and actress enough to find the thread of vocal and dramatic continuity that unites all of these elements.

It is, therefore, a shame that Zvetelina Vassileva is not singing every performance in the Baltimore Opera Company's current production of this great and popular opera. (Susan Patterson sang the role at yesterday's matinee and Maira O'Brien will sing it Thursday evening.) Last Saturday evening in the Lyric Opera House, Vassileva made it difficult to imagine how any singer could portray Violetta's frailty and passion for life more powerfully than the Bulgarian soprano did. She inhabited the role.

From the beginning she suggested all the attributes of Violetta: sensuous grace, humor, illness, restless enjoyment. To these qualities, later in the opera, she added another essential to any great portrayal of Violetta: the selflessness of a saint.

FOR THE RECORD - To our readers:
On Nov. 15, The Sun published a review of the Baltimore Opera Company's performance of "La Traviata."
After the review appeared, a reader wrote the newspaper to point out striking similarities between a passage in the review and one about a recording of "La Traviata" from a commonly used musical reference book, "The Metropolitan Opera Guide to Recorded Opera," published in 1993.
The critic who wrote The Sun's review, when asked about the similarity, acknowledged having committed plagiarism. He was dismissed from the staff yesterday.
Readers of the newspaper have a right to expect original reporting and criticism. On behalf of The Sun, I apologize to the Baltimore Opera Company, the authors of "The Metropolitan Opera Guide to Recorded Opera" and our readers.
John S. Carroll, editor

In the first act, Vassileva's "Ah, fors'e lui" was vibrant and touching, and "Sempre libera" feverishly glittering. With Germont (the disapproving father of her lover, Alfredo) in the succeeding act, she was fragile, yet full of conviction, and in "Dite alla giovine" she suggested sorrow so great that she could scarcely contain it. It must have been the heart-piercing immediacy of her evocation of hope and death in Act III that accounted for the sniffling and suppressed sobs from the audience.

Fernando de la Mora's Alfredo was sensitive and muscular. He presented the opening aria of Act II with a welcome tenderness, and he had the vocal heft necessary to cut through the orchestra in the angry scene at Flora's.

There was some excellent singing heard in some of the smaller parts -- that of Deidra Palmour (Flora), Susan Shafer (Annina) and Steven Fredericks (Grenvil). It was unfortunate, therefore, that the only vocal deficiency had to come from Eduard Tumagian in the important role of Germont.

His is a voice in considerable vocal distress. His roughly sung characterization seemed to emerge from his throat rather than his mouth: strained in all its registers and almost completely without any sense of legato. His dramatic insights into the character were interesting, but rather odd. No one as sharp as the character Tumagian created could honestly believe the things Germont says. Throughout the second act, therefore, it was impossible to suppress the thought that Alfredo's father was crassly manipulative and connivingly self-interested.

Richard Buckley conducted sensibly for the singers, but also sensitively and intelligently for the composer. The stage direction (Bernard Uzan), design (Desmond Healey), costumes (John Lehmeyer), lighting (Donald Edmund Thomas) and choreography (Rosa Mercedes) made this fine "La Traviata" all the more wonderful.

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