Williams shines in Annapolis Opera's `Traviata'


Howard Live

March 27, 2003|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

To bring off Giuseppe Verdi's perennial favorite, La Traviata, you need three excellent soprano voices.

That's the easy part.

The hard part is that they all must emanate from the same throat. For Violetta Valery - the flighty Parisian courtesan who falls for handsome, aristocratic Alfredo Germont, only to let him go at his father's request - is no ordinary role.

Violetta the Act I party girl must be nimble and lyrical enough to sprint through the fearsome coloratura passages of Sempre libera, her hyperactive ode to free love.

A heavier, more intense character (opera buffs call it spinto) is required for Act II, where the heartbroken Violetta assents to Papa Germont's request that she let Alfredo go for the sake of their family's good name.

In the final act, Violetta - lonely, deserted and mortally ill - mutates into a dramatic soprano who sings with immense grandeur of her sadness and her fleeting joy at being united with the repentant Alfredo just before her death.

Say this for the Annapolis Opera: They brought a full-fledged Violetta to town for last weekend's production of La Traviata.

Yali-Marie Williams, a product of the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute, sang and acted with commendable beauty and power in that problematic role. Charming, flirtatious (and dominant) in the ever-popular Libiamo! duet with her Alfredo, tenor Eric Fennell, she went on to ignite the fireworks in a feisty Sempre libera.

While some superstar sopranos have been singers first and actors somewhere down the line, others (Maria Callas, Beverly Sills and Renata Scotto are three sopranos who come to mind) have achieved a symbiotic connection between stagecraft and song. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Williams' performance Friday night is that she seems to be headed in that direction.

Her exchanges with Papa Germont, sung with commendable style and tonal depth by Baltimore baritone Thom King, were truly heartbreaking, especially her tearful recitation of the farewell note she begins writing to Alfredo in the spell of the guilt trip foisted on her by his father. Even the surge of energy before Violetta's final collapse, which can look so hokey in lesser hands, came across realistically.

Williams is still young and, no doubt, there were a few cues and phrases from Friday's performance that she'd like to have back. But she is, quite simply, a budding star.

Her Alfredo, though a gifted fellow to be sure, was a notch down from his co-star, dramatically and vocally.

Fennell, who shortly will take over the role of Rodolfo in Baz Luhrman's production of La Boheme on Broadway, was wooden on occasion, especially while greeting his father in Act I and reuniting with Violetta at the bitter end.

Vocally, his best moments came in his initial declaration of love, Un di felice, which soared over the orchestra, straight into the hearts of his listeners.

It was Thom King's Germont the Elder who latched onto the drama of the piece with equal parts dignity and power. His Act II exchanges with Violetta crackled with intensity, while his tear-stained Di Provenza il mar was a thing of sonorous beauty from start to finish.

Conductor Ronald Gretz's clean, incisive conducting supported his singers to a fault.

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