All the pleasures of `La Traviata' in a colorful display

Music Review


Wednesday evening's performance of the Baltimore Opera Company's production of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata - the second night of the season-opening show - had just about everything you'd want in this perennial classic about a beautiful fallen woman and the callow youth who adores her.

Soprano Elena Kelessidi delivered a magnetic vocal performance as Violetta Valery, the pleasure-loving Parisian courtesan who's willing to give it all up for the one true love of her life.

Kelessidi looked the part, too: delicate to a fault and almost preternaturally pale, as befits a heroine destined to die of consumption before the final curtain falls. She's got the total package, with the role in her voice - as opposed to merely singing the notes - in a score that calls for plenty of coloratura fireworks from the leading lady as well as pathos and drama.

Tenor Marcus McConico as Alfredo Germont, Violetta's star-struck young lover, had the looks for the part but he seemed oddly detached for much of the first act, and never quite managed to win the audience back.

Although he recovered somewhat with a touching rendition of the Act II aria "Lunge da lei," in which Alfredo revels in the unstinting love Violetta has offered. And he showed real flashes of passion in the banquet scene, when he confronts Violetta's purported unfaithfulness and agrees to a dual with her old protector, the oily, aristocratic moneybags Baron Douphol - sung with menacing panache by baritone Trevor Byron Scheunemann - McConico's Alfredo was definitely the weaker performance.

The stellar turn of baritone Ned Barth in the role of Georgio Germont, Alfredo's father, nearly made up for that disappointment, however. Barth's second-act duet with Kelessidi, in which he begged her to give up Alfredo to save the family's honor, was sung so tenderly that one almost wanted to rewrite the plot so that the father, rather than his self-centered, emotionally immature son, could have been the love of Violetta's life.

There was certainly enough electricity between the two. When the elder Germont took Violetta in his arms in a paternal embrace of forgiveness, the intimacy of the gesture was so palpable you had to wonder why he would ever let her go.

The set design, by Josef Svoboda, was a stunner from the start: a giant, ingeniously tilted wall of mirrors that rose like a billboard from the back of the stage to reflect painted period backdrops laid out like enormous carpets under the performers' feet.

Because the mirrors were tilted slightly downward, they reflected not only the backdrops on the floor but also aerial views of the cast and chorus, so that one saw the characters simultaneously from the front and from above.

I wondered whether this bit of stagecraft served some symbolic function. Was it perhaps a trope for the dichotomy between true happiness and the false gaiety of Parisian high life? Or perhaps it signified the inevitable disconnect between love's romantic illusions and its tragic reality.

Whichever, this eye-popping aspect of the production - along with costume designer Howard Tsvi Kaplan's sumptuous period outfits that drenched the stage in flowing color - was way cool, the kind of extravagant spectacle that afterward makes the dramatic action stick in your mind.

The supporting cast - mezzo Nicole Biondo as Flora, Brendan Cooke as the Marquis D'Obigny, David Langan as Violetta's sympathetic physician, Dr. Grenvile, and Madeleine Gray as the timid maid Annina - was charming and characterful, and the chorus sang with style and brio. The Act II Spanish dancers, choreographed by Kimberly Mackin, added a piquant touch of the exotic, and conductor Julius Rudel kept the proceedings on track with vitality and understated elegance.

La Traviata Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave., 8:15 tonight and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $37-$132. Call 410-727-6000.

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