Saturday, January 21, 2017

Seattle Opera presents a spare yet winning La Traviata

Corinne Winters and Joshua Dennis
Photo by Philip Newton
Seattle Opera's January 14 opening night of Verdi's La Traviata at McCaw Hall provided an interesting new way of looking at one of the old favorites of the repertoire. One of the most-performed operas worldwide, La Traviata is often associated with luscious set designs and grand costuming. However, SO's production of Peter Konwitschny yielded a new and fascinating perspective.

Beginning with a deeply pensive overture, the production was more concerned with looking at the underlying emotional content than any visual spectacle. The principals were without exception marvelous, insightful and deft singers. Especially impressive was Joshua Dennis as Alfredo in his SO debut. He had a warmth and gentility of tone coupled with agile ornamentation. Corinne Winters' Violetta was equally praiseworthy--in this production everything was exposed, musically and emotionally, and she was able to stand up to the challenges. Her Amami, Alfredo was exquisite while yet a bit subdued, and this seemed somehow appropriate. Weston Hurt as Giorgio Germont had an emotional and profound baritone, giving one the ability to feel for him despite the despicable techniques he uses to manipulate Violetta.

There were really no sets, per se. A few props: a chair here, drinking glasses there, a welter of playing cards tossed about, but no sets. And lighting was very important: a glaring whiteness during Brindisi  seemed to shine a light on the callous hedonism of the socialites. Even so the humor in the music was not excised, even if rendered somehow unsettling despite the joyous theme.  Several times the singers appeared in the aisles amongst the audience, making the scene seem more immediate and real even if it is hard to hear someone singing with their back to you.

Though it seems Violetta has an excruciating time dying given that she had nought but a chair in her room, the sparseness of the sets really put the onus on the singers (even moreso than usual) to bring out the emotional import of their parts. Winters' acting chops were fine, and the entire production seemed to suck some of the sap out of an opera that is often over-the-top romantically speaking. It also allowed viewers to focus more completely on the meaning of the music, and interpret for themselves events such as the entire group of socialites falling to the floor in a Jonestownian collapse amongst the detritus of playing cards in the second act.

The production proceeds with two casts through January 27.

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