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A popular success

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
10/08/2015 -  & October 13, 16*, 17, 21, 24, 29, 30, November 1, 4, 6, 2015
Giuseppe Verdi: La traviata
Joyce El-Khoury*/Ekaterina Siurina (Violetta Valéry), harles Castronovo/Andrew Haji* (Alfredo Germont), Quinn Kelsey/James Westman* (Giorgio Germont), Luren Segal (Flora Bervoix), Aviva Fortunata (Annina), Thomas Goerz (Baron Douphol), Iain MacNeil (Marquis d'Obigny), Charles Sy (Gastone), Neil Craighead (Dr. Grenvil), Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure (Giuseppe)
The Canadian Opera Company, Sandra Horst (chorus master), The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Marco Guidarini (conductor)
Arin Arbus (director), Riccardo Hernandez (set designer), Cait O'Connor (costume and puppetry designer), Marcus Doshi (lighting designer), Austin McCormick (choreographer), Christopher Ash (projection designer)

(© Michael Cooper)

In the ballet world the French word ballon is used to describe a dancer who seems to achieve elevation without apparent effort. A similar delightful feat was achieved by the COC orchestra under Marco Guidarini for this production, new to Toronto, of La traviata. A feather-light, ultra-sensitive prelude (during which we have a gauzy vision Violetta being helped into her voluminous gown) leads us toward the raucous blast signaling her party scene. Throughout the performance the singers received alert, sensitive support.

In contrast to the sensitive musical approach, the production team in many ways injects a heightened - even threatening - sense of expressiveness to the proceedings while using designs that conjure up the mid-1800s. Violetta’s ball gowns feature a superabundance of fabric, while the party guests sport exaggerated ancien régime costumes and hair styles. The cross-dressing “gypsy” dancers are accompanied by skeletal puppets that recall Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. This is not to say there is a jarring lack of consistency; the music and the visuals add up to a stimulating experience of a (perhaps overly) familiar work.

Aside from this, the direction of the principals offers no surprises either good or bad, with the exception of Giorgio Germont giving his son a slap in Act II, Scene I. The production opens up often-cut repeats which allow an unusually thoughtful degree of character development.

Joyce El-Khoury’s Violetta won the hearts of the audience and rightly so. One frequently reads that the role requires several types of voices, but Ms El-Khoury’s healthy instrument allows her the full gamut of the character’s expressiveness.

The Alfredo, Andrew Haji, is in his third and final year in the company’s Ensemble Studio. When I first heard him in a student role it was clear his voice is naturally suited to roles like Alfredo - he deserves the phrase “to the manner born”. His De’ miei bollenti spiriti gained an ovation, although the ensuing cabaletta lacked the ultimate vehemence and volume. I look forward to his developing more performance muscle while maintaining the innate bel canto purity of his voice.

James Westman brought a riveting vocal and dramatic focus to his performance of the hypocritical Germont père. Impressive high notes! This was one of his best performances in recent years.

The numerous comprimario roles were all ably performed, and both chorus and orchestra were up to their usual high standard.

The cast reviewed here perform in just three of the 11 performances (their other two are on October 30 and November 6). All other performances feature Ekaterina Siurina as Violetta, Charles Castronovo as Alfredo, and Quinn Kelsey as Giorgio Germont.

La traviata was last performed by the COC in a luridly updated version by Dmitry Bertman in 2007. This production is co-produced with the Chicago’s Lyric Opera (where it was performed in 2013) and Houston’s Grand Opera.

This is the third time Marco Guidarini has conducted an opera by Verdi for the COC. The other two, Simon Boccanegra in 2009 and Il trovatore in 2012, were equally successful.

Michael Johnson



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