Fyre, Fyre Burning Bright: LA TRAVIATA

Photos by Eric Antoniou.

Presented by Boston Lyric Opera
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Conducted by Arthur Fagen
Stage directed by Chas Rader-Shieber
Assistant directed by Nathan Troup

Oct. 10 – 19, 2014
Shubert Theatre
Boston, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

Trigger Warnings: Racism, Rape
Sung in Italian with English supertitles. There is one intermission.

(Boston, MA) There were many good things about BLO’s La Traviata. There were a few bad. Overall, it was a grand production.

A gentle disclaimer: Vocal technique will not be reviewed. Technique is highly personal. Reviewing it would be like reviewing hygenic habits: rude.

La Traviata is the story of a glamorous sex worker with consumption who falls madly in love with a penniless man with the heart of a poet. Violetta Valery (Anya Matanovic) and Alfredo Germont (Michael Wade Lee) run away to the expensive countryside beyond Paris to happily marinate in the juices of their pure love. Daddy Germont (Weston Hurt) ruins everything with his capacity for pious shame and propriety. At his behest, Violetta tells Alfredo in a note that it’s not working out. She flees to an rich, old lover, Baron Douphol (David Kravitz). Everything is a disaster until Violetta and Alfredo reunite in the last moments of the opera to pledge their undying love. Violetta proptly dies of consumption, like you do.

The Good: The orchestra from the first swish of Arthur Fagen’s baton was exquisite. The strings hummed with the sweet sadness layered in Verdi’s score. Listening to the Act 1 prelude carried the audience to Violetta’s party in scene 1. The orchestra played as one instrument while accompanying the vocalists on stage.

The Act 1 costumes by Jacob A Climer are so pretty I wanted to reach out touch them. I was afraid to touch the costumes and the actors in Act 2, Scene 1 (you’ll have to see the opera to find out why. It’s worth it.).

The staging by Chas Rader-Shieber is deliciously technical but subtle. It tends to reveal the potential staging embedded in Verdi’s score while balancing the physical needs of the actors. There is some standing and singing but it tends to display the acting skills of the vocalists rather than focus on only creating a pretty stage picture. There are also pretty stage pictures, thanks to the set design of Julia Noulin-Merat and, again, costume designer Climer.

The vocals were so wonderful that even when they weren’t perfect they were no less than lovely.

Matanovic is a flame that burns brightly. Her Violetta is played as coy and manipulative, but with a tender vulnerability. We forget that she’s a skilled courtesan and remember that she’s a young woman who’s never been loved for herself.

Wade Lee has a maginificent tenor. He’s a gentle Alfredo but a wolf of a vocalist. His solo in “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” unfolded like a fragile flower.

Hurt’s “Di Provenza il mar” is reminiscent of all of the best performances of “Bring Him Home” you can think of combined (…The chord progressions are similar towards the end. Using a musical theatre reference while discussing opera? Shocking!). Hurt is earnest and stately as Germont. Despite his unfortunate moral compass, Hurt’s Germont is a true gentleman.

The Bad: Matanovic chose the strangest times to face upstage. There were low notes that we couldn’t hear because she chose those moments to sing to the back wall. There were lovely cadenzas that were sung to the set dressings. Was she attempting to invoke Brechtian alienation? My instinct says no.

Wade Lee’s diction is noticably spotty.

The timbres of Matanovic and Wade Lee clash but act well together. Matanovic and Hurt had more vocal chemistry than Matanovic and Wade Lee.

The male and female ensembles exhibited the scalding hot passion of indifference when parking and barking. Given stage directions, they were expressive and gave the audience some character to chew on. Stillness appears to be their cryptonite.

The Weird: Verdi has this habit of introducing a jaunty tune just after Piave informs us that something tragic has happened. For example, Violetta is on stage bawling her elegant eyes out because she loves Alfredo but must leave him. Just then, Verdi gives us an upbeat theme in a major key. Everyone knows that nothing will work out well for the lovers. Yet in that moment, Verdi insists it’s the optimal time to give the wind instruments a bit of fluff to symbolize hope and redemption. It’s like he’s confusing us on purpose.

This isn’t a critique so much of a proud personal moment and I get to say it because NETG is my blog: Rachel Hauge (Annina) and I attended the Boston Conservatory together. We haven’t seen each for some years and it was awesome to see her on stage. I’m so very happy for you! Congrats, Boo.

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