* Notes *
Every performance of La Traviata has been sold-out at Lyric Opera of Chicago this January. I was unconvinced I could finagle a ticket for yesterday's matinée, as craigslist only had people who wanted tickets and Lyric Opera does not have standing room. Yesterday the Lyric Opera site still had the warning "Individual tickets will not be available for the January performances of La traviata due to subscriber purchases and exchanges," but did say to call about tickets for the day's performance. It turned out I could not buy a ticket on the telephone, as I am not a subscriber, so I did go down to the box office in person and did not have a problem getting a ticket.
Renée Fleming seemed to be the reason for the sold-out performances, as she has not sung in an opera at Lyric for 5 years. Personally, I had found Ms. Fleming rather overrated, her intonation was poor as Rodelinda and she seemed distant as Tatiana. Also, I thought it a bit ambitious for someone to take on such a vast array of roles, it seems unlikely for anyone to be able to sing both Baroque and Romantic music really well, at least, in the same part of her career. In Act I of La Traviata, Fleming had a few wobbles, but sang "Ah, fors' è lui" beautifully until she inverted herself on the couch. I did not like her rendition of "Sempre libera," her arrpegios were unclear.
The second half, however, was nearly perfect. Matthew Polenzani (Alfredo) sang "De' miei bollenti spiriti" with great tenderness. There were a few times the orchestra overwhelmed him, but on the whole he gave a good performance. Thomas Hampson acted and sang the role of Giorgio Germont quite convincingly, the body-language in his refusal to embrace Violetta was particularly good. His aria "Di Provenza il mar" was one of the best of the performance.
Back to Ms. Fleming, she seemed much more engaged in this role than the others I had heard her in, her voice was laden with emotion, but still was perfectly in tune. Her acting was also fine, going from flirty minx to dying martyr in three acts without missing a beat.
The chorus was good save for a few seconds when the men were just slightly off from the orchestra in Act II Scene 2. The tambourine playing by some female choral members, in the same scene, was not confident. I am not sure why singers are made to do percussion, one would never make percussionists sing.
Desmond Heeley's set and costumes were traditional through and through. Fleming looked prettier in the light green dress of Act II Scene 2 than in the red velvet in Act I. The scene change in Act II took people by surprise, and an usher had to yell into the crowd that it was not an intermission. Also, I believe something went awry in the lighting of Act II Scene 1, when Germont is singing about how Violetta is still young and beautiful. A light in the garden background turned off and on a few times.
* Tattling *
The first balcony is preferable to the ground floor, the sound is better and the way the seats are arranged is such that one's view remains unobstructed by others. I noticed the dress of the audience was as relaxed as in San Francisco, I saw evening gowns and heels, but jeans and sneakers too. A woman in front of me clipped and filed one of her nails before the performance, which I have never seen before.
Audience members were noiser toward the beginning, a woman behind me pointed out the dancers to someone else rather loudly. For the most part, people only whispered, though some female adolescents did make a good deal of noise getting out their gum during the music. Apparently one of these girls knew the couple of older Russian ladies next to her, and was offered some chocolates during the second intermission. In order to eat the chocolates, she took out her gum, placed it on her finger to save it, ate the chocolate, and then put the gum back into her mouth. It was strangely endearing and horrifying at the same time.