Posted by: operatheaterink | June 21, 2019

Opera Review: ‘La Traviata,’ Los Angeles Opera, June 21, 2019

The Stars Sparkle in LA Opera’s ‘La Traviata.’

Adela Zaharia as Violetta in LA Opera’s 2019 production of “La Traviata.”


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink
Original for Beverly Hills Courier
New commentary and additions of second cast here

I have seen Marta Domingo’s Art Deco Los Angeles Opera production of “La Traviata” a number of times now, and it gets better each time I see it.

I may be an old-fashioned kind of girl who loves the older versions, like the LA Opera revival in 2006 starring Renée Fleming, but this updated version to the 1920s works, makes sense, and respects the composer’s music. It is in keeping with today’s worldwide need to modernize everything in society to keep up with modern technology. But this production does not hit you over the head with crazy new elements like cartoon characters or high-tech projections. It tells the old story, which was set in the 1800s but has often been staged back to the 1700s; however, instead of being about a French courtesan or “demimondaine,” Marta Domingo has made the story about a party girl during the flapper era.

I have roamed to the Music Center a number of times through the years to see this production. More kinks are removed with each run, and the production has been fine-tuned with colorful sets and costumes that dazzle.

Patterned after the real Marie Duplessis who became Marguerite Gautier in Alexandre Dumas’ “La Dame aux Camélias” and Violetta Valéry in Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Violetta in the original opera is a French courtesan with beauty and class. Alfredo Germont meets, falls in love with her, and soon lives with her in a cottage on the French countryside.

Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, cannot fathom the idea that his son is cohabitating with a “demimondaine.” He explains to Violetta that her scandalous affair with his son will affect his daughter’s wedding plans and urges her to leave him. At first, Violetta is unwilling, then consents to honor Giorgio’s wishes. Since she cannot tell Alfredo the true reason for her departure, he scorns her at a party hosted by their friend, Flora. Ridden with guilt while Violetta is dying, Giorgio tells Alfredo the truth, and the two make their way to Violetta’s residence. The two lovers are reunited, but it is too late.

In Marta Domingo’s version, the party-like gathering in the first act is during the Roaring Twenties. Not only are the costumes and sets updated, but so are the reactions between the women and men. The flirting between Violetta and Alfredo is more overt, modern and blunt than what occurs in the traditional setting of the opera, which is more subtle.

The libretto by Francesco Maria Piave does not change from one production to the other, but the tone or acting of the singing dialogue does.

Alfredo (Rame Lahaj, June 1, 9, 13 and Charles Castronovo, June 16, 19, 22) sings a drinking song, “brindisi,” and flirts with Violetta with “Un dì, felice, eterea.” Violetta (Adela Zaharia) sings “Ah, fors’è lui” which flowers into the famous “Sempre libera” aria, “Ever Free.”

The first scene is cleverly staged with a large vintage automobile driven onstage. I don’t like its intrusiveness, but it does set the period with a jolt.

The sets allow us to suspend our imagination. We see an inside room with sparkling stars in the background. Nothing divides the inside from the outside. Poetic magic.

With a glitzy discotheque-type glimmering chandelier hanging from above and the dazzling costumes and Art Deco setting, Flora’s party scene keeps the audience wide-eyed and watching. The dancing is well-choreographed by Kitty McNamee and enacted by technically clean dancers, including Louis A. Williams Jr.

Flora (Peabody Southwell) becomes a significant character in a scene that rarely focuses on anyone but Alfredo, Violetta, and the scenery and spectacle. She is a focused singer-actress who is always in character whether acting or reacting.

Violetta sings a heartfelt “Addio, del passato” toward the end of the opera so that we in the audience hope that Alfredo makes it in time.

Baritones Vitaliy Bilyy and Igor Golovatenko share the role of the elder Germont. Golovatenko sings Alfredo’s father with authority and reserve.

In 2006, tenor Joseph Calleja displayed a gorgeous vocal ring in the role of Alfredo — I remember hearing tones that were reminiscent of Björling — but Calleja lacked the acting prowess to elicit the needed audience excitement. In 2014, Arturo Chacón-Cruz’s youthful Alfredo was apt, and he was well-cast opposite his elder Germont, sung by tenor Plácido Domingo in a baritonal role. But still, Chacón-Cruz’s overall performance did not sparkle enough to be memorable. Now, in 2019, Castronovo’s Alfredo sings with fluid lyric tones that flow from a virile exterior. The contrast between the ring of Castronovo and the chocolate of Golovatenko is just what Verdi intended.

In 2006, soprano Elizabeth Futral sang with verve, but her Violetta lacked soul. In 2014, Nino Machaidze sang with great lyricism and an ability to shade and color each note. Adela Zaharia’s sound has a warm vocal timbre with fullness during the coloratura and high notes.

However, the three main characters on June 19 (sung by Castronovo, Zaharia and Golovatenko) gave mind-directed performances that should have been rounder and warmer. As I walked out of the theatre, I was thinking exactly what the woman walking next to me was thinking. She told me that some of the scenes seemed “one-dimensional.” There was no flow, just a one-dimensional simplicity between the characters.

The characters didn’t communicate. There was nothing going on between Alfredo’s father and Violetta by the end of their scene in the second act. There should be. We should see that Giorgio is conflicted by what he has told Violetta because he is developing fatherly feelings for her and likes her. Everything is complicated, not simplistic. The two seemed to be singing to themselves.

The ensemble includes Christopher Job as Doctor Grenvil, Erica Petrocelli as Annina, Juan Carlos Heredia as Marquis d’Obigny, Alok Kumar as Gastone and Wayne Tigges as Baron Douphol. Good voices . . . Good ensemble.

As the wife of Plácido Domingo, who is the general director of LA Opera, Marta Domingo has had the luxury of time to perfect every aspect of this production so that it is near perfection. A number of the singers have won or placed in her husband’s Operalia competition. He is nurturing their careers and appropriate casting. He is giving back. As for his elder Germont with LA Opera in 2014, he sang with authority as did baritone Dwayne Croft in 2006 and Golovatenko in the current production. Whether baritone or baritonal, the appearance of age and stature help.

Domingo has sung the elder Germont with soprano Angel Blue at La Scala to rave reviews. I have followed the soprano’s career since she was a graduate student at UCLA. I would like to see this dynamic coupling at LA Opera.

Conductor James Conlon’s energy as the company’s music director always motivates the orchestra while he maintains a sensitivity toward the singers that few conductors can equal.

This production at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is worthy of another run. The sets are bright and cheery. It is a unique and classic production of a classic opera, a must-see for those over the age of 16 to learn about opera, and for those who have loved this opera their whole lives long as I have.

Director and Designer: Marta Domingo
Conductor: James Conlon
Lighting: Alan Burrett
Choreographer: Kitty McNamee
Chorus Director: Grant Gershon

Adela Zaharia as Violetta and Erica Petrocelli as Annina in LA Opera’s 2019 production of “La Traviata.”