SF Opera's La Traviata
November 12, 2022
* Notes *
A brand new production of Verdi's La Traviata (Act II Scene 2 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera yesterday evening, kicking off a series of operas by this composer conducted by our new Music Director Eun Sun Kim. The orchestra sounded lovely, but definitely more restrained than in previous outings of this piece in recent memory.
The overture was handled quite well by Maestra Kim, everyone sounded very beautiful, the tempi were not excessively fast. There were moments with the chorus in particular where there were issues with synchrony. The offstage bandas in both Act I and Act III sounded nice and together. The strings were exquisite in Act III, as Violetta dies.
There were six former Merolini in this opera, so a lot of familiar faces and voices. Most notable of these were mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven (2016) as a sympathetic Flora Bervoix and bass-baritone Philip Skinner (1985) as a rather terrifying Baron Dauphol.
For the three most important principals we had three San Francisco Opera debuts. Baritone Simone Piazzola had a lush warmth as Giorgio Germont, the right mixture of sternness and fatherly care. He sang both "Pura siccome un angelo, Iddio mi diè una figlia" and "Di Provenza il mar, il suol chi dal cor ti cancellò?" very well, the latter stuck with me as a highlight of the evening. Tenor Jonathan Tetelman (Alfredo) had a very pretty moment in the Act I duet "Un dì, felice, eterea," but had a tendency to yell his high notes otherwise, he doesn't seem to have perfect control of his volume. Most interesting was the Violetta, soprano Pretty Yende. Her singing in Act I seemed a bit delicate and icily metallic, but she brought incredible pathos to Acts II and III, and the resonances of her voice worked very well for her duets with Germont and Alfredo. I found her "Gran Dio!...morir sì giovane" at the very end particularly arresting.
This new staging from director Shawna Lacey looks very much like her Tosca from 2018, and it isn't a surprise that the set designer, Robert Innes Hopkins, is the same. I do wish that they had taken this opportunity to make the scene change in Act II smoother, it really took a lot of time to change the set from Violetta's country house to Flora's party, and the audience did not settle down quickly enough when the music started again. The contrasts between the saturated, almost lurid colors of the party scenes with the others were stark.
The realism of sex, violence, and illness throughout were unsettling. The courtesans do some 19th century version of twerking at Flora's party, the Baron does seem dangerous and scary, and having Violetta cough all throughout the piece was effective. There was some colorful cross dressing in Act II Scene 2 from the Marquis, who wears a pink tutu with his tuxedo tails and from the dancers who had bisected costumes portraying masculine and feminine evening wear on each side. Violetta does look genuinely sick in the last act (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) and this only added to how distressing the end is.
* Tattling *
The audience was enthusiastic and the fact that this performance was simulcast to the nearby baseball stadium certianly heightened the excitement. I did hear a cellular phone ring house left on the Orchestra Level as Pretty Yende sang "È strano! ... Ah, fors' è lui" in Act I. Also, the person in Row Q Seat 3 kept crinkling a plastic bottle at the beginning of Act II Scene 2. Though I felt annoyed by these disturbances, it is sort of nice that things are so much back to normal.