La Traviata

by Jack Gardner
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Apr 23, 2013
Maria Alejandres (Left) and Suzanne Vinnik (Right)
Maria Alejandres (Left) and Suzanne Vinnik (Right)  (Source:Gaston de Cardenas (Left), Alejandra Serna (Right))

For the close of their 72nd season, Florida Grand Opera is presenting a double cast production of Giuseppe Verdi's opera, "La Traviata."

"La Traviata" has been a favorite of audiences since the 1850's and is one of the 'chestnuts' of the operatic repertoire. Based loosely on the famous novel and play "La Dame aux Camélias" by Alexander Dumas, fils, it tells the story of consumptive courtesan Violetta Valery who falls in love with a young man, Alfredo.

While they are happy together, Alfredo's love for Violetta brings shame upon his family and, at his father's request, Violetta gives Alfredo up and returns to her life of sin. Alfredo wounds her lover in a duel and Violetta is overcome by her illness. However, in the third act, Alfredo and Violetta are united just prior to her death from tuberculosis.

The role of Violetta Valery is one of Verdi's more demanding soprano roles, requiring agile coloratura in the first act and dramatic intensity in Acts Two and Three. It is normal to double cast the leads for longer runs and that is what FGO has chosen to do for this production.

The role of Violetta is played on alternating nights by sopranos Maria Alejandres and Suzanne Vinnik. Alejandres was seen last year in Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" and is a favorite of FGO audiences. Vinnik makes her FGO debut with this performance.

The two sopranos are very different in vocal style and quality. Alejandres has a very warm seductive voice that really makes one think of a courtesan, while Vinnik possesses a lighter, brighter coloratura voice that highlights the naiveté and romantic nature of Violetta. Both sopranos sang the role extremely well.

The aria "Ah! Fors e lui...Sempre Libera" that ends Act One is one of the more challenging arias in the soprano repertory. It is also the benchmark for singers performing the role of Violetta. It requires a singer to not only be able to navigate florid coloratura passages, but also to be able to master very high pianissimo as well as have dramatic intensity.

Both Alejandres and Vinnik performed this aria admirably, but their performances were very different. Alejandres' heavier voice and darker tone suited the dramatic sections very well and her coloratura was excellent and on pitch the entire aria. She chose to take the high E flat (above high C) at the end of the aria and the sound was big and beautiful.

Vinnik's lighter voice skimmed over the coloratura passages effortlessly and, even though her voice is lighter that Alejandres', she still managed to equal her, if not surpass her in the dramatic intensity of this act closing aria. Vinnik did not take the optional high E flat at the end of the aria in her opening performance.

The tenor role of Alfredo Germont was also double cast. Ivan Magri sang with Alejandres and John Bellemer sang with Vinnik. Magri's voice is perfectly suited to Verdi. It is a larger voice with a nice crisp tenor tone and clarion high notes. Bellemer's lighter tenor is not as well suited to the demands of this Verdi role and while there were moments of brilliance in Act Three, for most of Acts One and Two he sounded uncomfortable in the role.

The Act Two aria for the tenor consists of a cavatina (De' miei bollenti spiriti) and a cabaletta (Oh! Mio rimorso). It has been traditional in the last century to cut the cabaletta as it is a very demanding piece that not every tenor can sing well. For this production, the cabaletta has been restored and both tenors gave admirable renditions of it, but while Magri's high B- flats rang like church bells, Bellemer's sounded shaky and were somewhat overwhelmed by the orchestra.

Maestro Ramon Tebar flawlessly conducted the orchestra and performers through the opera. His tempi kept the opera moving at the appropriate pace and he was especially sensitive to the needs of the singers.

The final double casting is of the leading baritone role, Giorgio Germont -- Alfredo's father. Giorgio Caoduro sang with Alejandres and Joo Won Kang sang with Vinnik. Germont does not appear in Act One. The character's first entrance is with a short aria "Pura siccome un angelo" and a scene and duet with Violetta, 'Dite alla giovine si bella e pura.'

During this scene we learn that Violetta is the one financing the couple's life of seclusion in the country. The duet is notable for sections of a cappella singing. Kang and Vinnik gave pitch perfect renditions of this moving duet. Unfortunately Caoduro and Alejandres had noticeable pitch problems in this section.

The second half of the scene consists of Germont with his son Alfredo and contains the baritone aria "Di Provenza il mar, il suol" and both Caoduro and Kang gave beautiful and touching renditions of this aria where Germont attempts to comfort Alfredo over his loss of Violetta.

Act Two Scene Two is a party scene where Alfredo confronts Violetta and her lover, the Baron Douphol, brilliantly played in both casts by bass Adam Lau (The Olga and David Melin Young Artist for this season). The hostess of the party, Flora, is sung beautifully in both casts by soprano Lucy Sauter (The Louise and Terry Moore Young Artist for this season.)

This section of the show begins with a mini ballet of three gypsy women (Elizabeth Arencibia, Esther Pardo and Taylor Barker) and two matadors (Samuel Beckman and Ihosvany Rodriguez). While the gypsy women danced gracefully and Pardo was rhythmical with her castanets, the matadors danced poorly with stumbles and slips in both performances.

Act Three is comprised of the famous soprano aria "Addio, del passato" and a series of duets between Alfredo and the dying Violetta.

The "Addio, del passato" is Violetta's last aria as she reads a letter from Germont begging her forgiveness for his misjudging her. She bemoans that it is too late and prays, "Ah, della traviata sorridi al desio; A lei, deh, perdona; tu accoglila, o Dio!" ("Oh, smile at the desire of the forsaken woman; To her, oh, grant forgiveness; welcome her, O God!"). Both Alejandres and Vinnik gave moving performances of this aria that brought tears to the eyes of the audience.

The aria is followed by the reappearance of Alfredo and he sings with Violetta the touching duet "Parigi, o cara." Magri's performance remained consistent throughout the opera and his voice complimented Alejandres' during the final moments of the opera. Bellemer, who sounded unsteady in Acts One and Two, turned out a superstar performance in Act Three up against Vinnik. Both casts presented stellar emotional performances to end the opera, earning standing ovations from their respective audiences.

Maestro Ramon Tebar flawlessly conducted the orchestra and performers through the opera. His tempi kept the opera moving at the appropriate pace and he was especially sensitive to the needs of the singers.

The sets and costumes were designed by Allen Charles Klein and are the same that FGO audiences saw for the 2008 production of "La Traviata." While the sets are stunningly beautiful, they occasionally overwhelm the singers, particularly in Act One and in Act Two Scene Two when the chorus was on stage for the party scenes. During these moments, with so much happening on stage, it was difficult to focus on the singers.

The country scene (Act Two, Scene One) seemed cavernous for the scene where no more than three people are on stage together at any given time. The scene change in Act Two between the country scene and the party scene, lasting over five minutes, was long and noisy. The most effective set was the gloomy bedroom set for Act Three. Complimented by lighting designer Thomas Hase, it created a very evocative 'death bed/sick room' atmosphere.

Regardless of which cast you choose to see, this production of "La Traviata" will delight and move you. Verdi's lush score filled with familiar arias and the brilliant singing on the part of Alejandres and Vinnik will enrapture audiences young or old, opera lover or opera virgin. Florida Grand Opera ends their 2012-2013 season on a high note.

"La Traviata" runs through April 27 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami, and May 2-5 at the Broward Center For the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave. in Fort Lauderdale. For tickets and information, call 800-741-1010 or visit www.fgo.org

Jack Gardner has been producing theater in Dallas and Fort Lauderdale for the past 8 years. He has performed in operas, musicals and dramatic works as well as doing voice-over and radio work. Jack lives in South Florida with his three dogs.


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