La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi
Winspear Opera House, Dallas, Texas April 13, 15, 18, 21, 27, 29, 2012
Review by Dean M. Cassella, Ph.D.
The Dallas Opera’s latest production, a rendition of Verdi’s La traviata (“The Fallen One”), one of the most popular works in the repertoire, is performed so regularly that it is difficult to come up with surprises (apart from going post-modern and setting it on a leper colony on a deserted island, or some such thing). But the national premiere of a fabulous new prima donna, well, that’s something worth writing home about.
This is the first time that Greek soprano Myrtò Papatanasiu graces an American stage. Judging from her fantastic performance at the Winspear, as Violetta, the irresistible but doomed courtesan, one can hope that she becomes a prominent feature in American houses. One is almost inclined to imagine her to be some treasured secret in Europe. However, she is not exactly a neophyte in the International Opera world, with no less than two Naxos DVD’s to her credit (Così Fan Tutte, and Il turco in Italia).
Her lush, rosy-colored voice absolutely commands attention and, at times, borders on the hypnotic. She also seems occasionally to bring back (slightly) the old practice of taking liberties with the text at climactic moments. This is all to the good, as it hearkens back to the actual practice of bel canto opera as it was performed in its heyday. One could arguably say that this makes for a more authentic performance than a slavish fidelity to the score, an approach sometimes associated with conductor Ricardo Muti.
With tenor James Valenti’s third starring role at TDO (as Alfredo, Violetta’s devoted star-crossed lover), it’s safe to say that he is now a regular feature in Dallas, and that’s a good thing. He delivered some excellent singing and was reasonably well-matched with Papatanasiu.
French baritone Laurent Naouri sings a wonderful Giorgio Germont, the stern father of Alfredo, who compels Violetta to abandon her beloved for the sake of his (Alfredo’s) sister’s impending wedding. Naouri has particularly notable articulation. If he has any fault, it is that he is too slender and handsome to be a completely convincing Giorgio (ha!).
Mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider, who hails from Pennsylvania, performs a delightfully feisty Flora, Violetta’s friend and quintessential Parisian party girl.
Genoese conductor Marco Guidarini held things together reasonably, although his conducting at times seemed a bit understated.
The stage direction of veteran Bliss Hebert really left something to be desired. Simply speaking, not much happens on stage in this Traviata. One of the best known duets in the opera, Libiamo! (“Let’s Toast!”) is a virtual paean to sensuality. Yet the chorus of partygoers, libertines to the core, merely sit at table, like sexagenarians at a canasta match. Even Valenti, normally dashing, comes across a little flat. This is all very surprising, as Hebert’s previous work for TDO (notably his Tales of Hofmann in 2005/2006) was inspired.
Charles Allen Klein’s sets are absolutely fabulous, and convey a sense of grandeur and richness that can be described as “Met-like.” Firmly rooted in the libretto, they vividly depict lush, palatial residences in nineteenth-century Paris. Flora’s home in Act II, literally glowing in red, is particularly notable.
On the whole, the show makes for an enjoyable evening. Papatanasiu alone is worth the price of admission.
Next up: Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
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