Second principal Traviata dazzles the ear
Lyric Opera of Chicago
01/11/2008 - & January 14*, 17, 20, 23, 26, 2008
Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata
Renée Fleming (Violetta), Matthew Polenzani (Alfredo), Thomas Hampson (Germont), Buffy Baggott (Flora), David Portillo (Gastone), Philip Kraus (Douphol), Phillip Dothard (Marquis), Paul Corona (Grenvil), Amber Wagner (Annina) Edward Mount (Giusippe), Jordan Shanahan (Messenger), Matthew Carroll (Servant)
Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra and chorus, Andrew Davis (conductor)
Frank Corsaro (director), Desmond Heeley (settings and costumes), Christine Binder (lighting)
La Traviata made a triumphant re-entry into Lyric’s repertory with a new trio of principals to grace the second run of the opera’s welcome presence in the 2007-2008 season.
Renée Fleming’s Violetta is new to Chicago, though the soprano has long established herself as one or the world’s leading interpreters of this massive role. Those who prefer a Callas-like intensity or a more veristic approach to the character might find Fleming’s carefully manicured musicality a bit glacial in this music; that said, Fleming is not the world’s leading soprano for nothing. Act One was appropriately glittering and fluidly done, the fiorature cleanly in place, including a glorious trill in the cadenza to Violetta's great Act One solo. The successive acts were expressively delivered with a lushness of tone that, as always with Fleming, consistently appeared to be delivered well with her means. Addio, del passato was stunning.
Lyric audiences carry a particular affection for Matthew Polenzani, the lyric tenor having earned his oats in the company's Center for American Artists (now the Ryan Center) some years back. The intrinsic sweetness of Polenzani's timbre, coupled with the bright ping on high employed for moments of extrovert emotionality make Alfredo a natural assignment for him, and his ardent characterization left little doubt as to why this naively impetuous young man would so appeal to the world-weary courtesan.
The evening reunited Ms. Fleming with Thomas Hampson, their potent stage partnership last seen on this stage in the Thais of several seasons ago. Hampson occasionally became blustery in service of emotional expression, but while his baritone has nicely beefed up a bit in recent years, it retains a patrician timbre that is most effective in this role, and his rather priggish characterization of Germont is interesting.
Standouts among the comprimari included Paul Corona's sonorous Grenvil; Jordan Shanahan's resonant baritone registered notably in the tiny role of the messenger.
Desmond Heeley’s opulent, Second Empire-influenced production is of course quite familiar to Lyric regulars. The ambiance is a trifle dark, but often beautiful with its pastiche of reds and burnished gold and its ornate bits of decorative molding and sparkling chandeliers. The original staging has been gratefully re-imagined by veteran director Frank Corsaro, utilizing many of the same ideas that were initially so daring - the long pause before é strano for example - in his classic interpretation for NYCO many years ago. Subscribers might note too that the leading lady’s costumes have been redesigned, and are quite lovely, though a new dark-red velvet gown in the first act rendered the Lady of the Camellias difficult to spot among the lush surroundings.
Andrew Davis conducted a beautifully nuanced account of the score. Most standard cuts were taken, though we did have both verses of Addio, del passato and one verse of Alfredo's cabaletta. Donald Nally’s mellifluous chorus crowned an evening of persuasive music making at Chicago’s principal opera house.
Mark Thomas Ketterson