Sunday, February 28, 2010

How can you do something new with an old standard?

Verdi's La Traviata is so familiar to even casual opera fans that it would be hard to do something innovative with it. But the Sacramento Opera Company did just that. I will admit I am a sap for Verdi. Oddly or not, I cannot stand most of Puccini. But among the 30-40 operas I have seen in my lifetime, Traviata is one of my favorites. The three leads are a soprano who works nights, a man about town who falls for the soprano (a tenor) and his dad (a baritone) who tries to break it up. The three pictures are of the tenor (Alexander Boyer), the baritone (Ken Overton) and the Soprano (Karen Slack).

When I was growing up my families called these kinds of operas "floppers" because the female lead is always dying of a disease (usually consumption - mostly because 19th Century sensibilities would not let her die of a social disease) and in the last act is able to belt out a couple of arias before she succumbs.

Two things were noticeable about this production. I got the distinct impression that Timm Rolek, the conductor, slowed the pace of the overture down just a bit. That made it a lot more anticipatory of the rest of the opera. I thought his leadership was able to exploit the absolutely wonderful arias throughout the performance. Second, the three leads were great on their own and worked well together. Everybody has a favorite aria from this opera ( I have a bias toward Baritones)- mine is Di Provenza il mar il suol in which the older Germond demands that Violetta stop seeing his son for the sake of Germond's daughter. The Sacramento Opera site has a recording of Italian baritone Tito Gobbi singing the aria. For my money, although Gobbi and Robert Merrill and possibly Leonard Warren often get the billing for this aria - I think Cornell MacNeil did it best. The point of the Sacramento production is that Overton ranks with the best of them.

On Sunday, Slack was a bit rocky in the first act, but she quickly warmed up. Her performance in the second and third acts was superb. Overton and Boyer had a good mix of stage presence and voice to carry their roles out with style and finesse. The show will run one more time on Tuesday - it is well worth seeing if you can get tickets.

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