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Violetta soars

Orange County
Opera Pacific
05/17/2005 -  and 19, 21, 22 May 2005
Giuseppe Verdi : La Traviata
Dina Kuznetsova (Violetta), Garrett Sorenson (Alfredo), Ashley Holland (Giorgio), Charles Austin (Douphol), Scott Wyatt (Gastone), Todd Robinson (Dr. Grenvil), Jamie Offenbach (Marchese D’Obigny), Stephanie Woodling (Flora), Susan Nicely (Annina),
Kevin St. Clair (Giuseppe), James Martin Schaefer (Messenger).
Amy Hutchison (director), Christine E.B. Jordan (Costume Director), Christine Binder (lighting designer), Tom Lane (technical director)
Henry Venanzi (chorusmaster),
John DeMain (conductor).

After the triumph of his third opera, Nabucco, Verdi catapulted to become a national figure in Italy. This was also the beginning of the so called, anni di galera (years in the galleys), during which Verdi composed some of his most popular works. In the 1840’s Verdi’s operas centered around subject matter from literary works, including Shakespeare, Hugo, and Schiller. This continued into the following decade by using Alexandre Dumas’ novel, La dame aux camélias, as the basis of La Traviata. This time Verdi’s work foreshadowed the beginning of “verismo” opera. Instead of surrounding himself with historical subjects as previously found in his early works, La Traviata’s characters brought to surface a new sense of personal connection to their audiences by demonstrating the practices of a particular social class.

Contrary to public belief, La Traviata was not a predisposed failure. While Verdi deemed it a total disaster, the audience greeted it warmly on the premiere date of March 6, 1853 in La Fenice, Venice. In fact, critics wrote the music was played magnificently and “the public was ravished by the most beautiful and lively melodies that have been heard in a long time”. That season nine more performances were held, all to a growing, supportive crowd. Today, La Traviata is one of the most popular operas in the repertory.

La Traviata is a work that centers around Violetta Valery, a heroine in everyone’s hearts, practicing the act of sacrifice over love. Violetta’s role is a most difficult one, as each act requires a different type of soprano voice: the first act, coloratura, the second, a dramatic, and third, a lyrical. Dina Kuznetsova (Violetta) deserves such merit. In her first attempt at the role she handled it with surprising ease. Although somewhat restrained in the opening “Brindisi”, she was a convincing and credible courtesan. Kuznetsova’s coloratura notes hit dead center, but she also appeared rushed especially in “È strano, è strano”. Treading on the cautious side, she spared her voice with the last high note in “Sempre Libera”. Notwithstanding it was a pleasure to listen to her sing this difficult yet beautiful aria.

The Germont-Violetta duet, “Morró…la mia memoria” in Act II was imbued with pathos and passion. Kuznetsova’s long, sustained lines in Act III were without disconnect, and controlled breathing allowed her to maximize the dynamics in the music. Indeed, she was captivating during her “Addio del passato”.

Alfredo Germont, sung by Garrett Sorenson, complimented Kuznetsova throughout the performance. The synchronization was precise and dramatic. Certainly not a novice to The Met, Mr. Sorenson’s debut at Opera Pacific clearly demonstrated his superb abilities by convincing the audience of his somewhat naive yet star-struck love for Violetta. His voice was radiant and clear.

Reportedly ill on opening night, Ashley Holland (Giorgio Germont) showed no signs of weakness. Rounding out the cast of three supportive roles as the father figurehead, Mr. Holland displayed a steady and strong-willed, yet empathetic and enriching voice.

All of the supporting roles were substantial: Charles Austin (Douphol), Scott Wyatt (Gastone), Todd Robinson (Dr. Grenvil), Jamie Offenbach (Marchese D’Obigny), Stephanie Woodling (Flora), Susan Nicely (Annina).

Set in the 1880’s The Lyric Opera of Chicago-owned production was lavish and ornate, one of expected tradition. To compliment the opulence of hanging drapes, filigree, and chandeliers, the super titles were surrounded with faux carved wood…a touch of thoughtful continuity. Costumes constructed by Grace Costumes Ltd., of New York added delightful color and texture within the time period.

At the baton was John DeMain, conducting a well prepared orchestra. They were exceptional and outlined the music with verve and expressive dynamics. Delicate phrasing punctuated the score and magnified the principals’ singing. Despite a somewhat muted chorus during the opening of Acts I and II, this did not detract from the overall atmosphere of the production.

As a conventional La Traviata, it delighted the full house crowd. The evening ended with a standing ovation for Ms. Kuznetsova. Keep your eyes on the up and coming star! She will be appearing as Gilda in Rigoletto at The Lyric Opera of Chicago in their 2005-2006 season.

Christie Grimstad



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