Friday, November 23, 2018

Romanian soprano superb in Portland Opera's "La Traviata"

Photo by Cory Weaver/Portland Opera
By opening its 2018-2109 season with “La Traviata” on Friday, November 2, Portland Opera has decided to return to its base with a grand opera at the Keller Auditorium in the late fall. For the past three years, the company has experimented with a season that extended from late spring through summer with mixed success, doing two works at the Keller and two at the Newmark Theatre. Apparently, the company figured out that the experiment worked alright, but was not convincing. So, it has readjusted its schedule once again with a big fall performance (“La Traviata”) followed by March performances at the Newmark of the popular new opera, “As One,” and summer performances at the Keller (“The Barber of Seville”), the Newmark (“La Finta Giardiniera”) and the intimate Hampton Opera Center (“In the Penal Colony”).

“La Traviata” has an evergreen status with Portland Opera, because it has mounted six productions (1968, 1975, 1982, 1993, 2001, 2008) in the past with reliable success. It’s a star vehicle for Verdi sopranos, and Romanian Aurelia Florian fulfilled that requirement with an outstanding performance of the Violetta Valéry, the consumptive courtesan with a heart of gold.

This production featured huge painted backdrops, designed by Ecole Sormani and provided by the Stivanello Costume Company, that set each scene in the style of upper-class salons of 19th Century France. The traditional costumes were designed by Christine A. Richardson. Directed by Elise Sandell, this “La Traviata” was a fairly standard affair, except for the big soirees, which offered a dash of inclusiveness with a bearded male chorister in a ball gown and at least one female colleague dressed in a man’s suit.

The opening party scene had splash with Alfredo (Jonathan Boyd) coming out of the gate singing strongly and Violetta (Florian) responding with an equally vigorous voice. She grabbed a bottle of bubbly and kicked off her shoes, which lightened up things a bit, but the two didn’t have much chemistry as onstage lovers. A couple of off-stage noises interrupted things a bit at beginning of Act 2, but that was quickly forgotten when Violetta capitulated to the demands of Germont (Weston Hurt) to drop the affair with his son. Hurt’s resolute and lovely baritone was one of the highlights of the evening. The scene in which Violetta rejected Alfredo in favor of Baron Douphol (Daniel Mobbs), causing Alfredo to erupt and throw his winnings was forcefully compelling. In the final act, Florian wonderfully conveyed the pathos of Violetta’s sickness and her last breath while proclaiming her eternal love for Alfredo. The two lovers finally connected convincingly and created the feeling of warmth and tragedy as the curtain came down.

Conductor Christopher Larkin guided the music with great sensitivity, and the orchestra sounded excellent. The chorus, prepared by Nicholas Fox, was in top form. The audience was on its feet during the curtain calls, showering the most applause and cheers on Florian.

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