FGO closes season with a dramatic, vividly sung “Traviata”

By David Fleshler

Maria Alejandres and Ivan Magri star in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at Florida Grand Opera. Photo: Gaston de Cardenas

Outstanding singers, sumptuous sets and a firm sense of the dramatic created a moving evening of opera Saturday at the Arsht Center in Miami, in Florida Grand Opera’s opening-night performance of Verdi’s La Traviata.

The Mexican soprano María Alejandres gave a vivid, vocally spectacular performance as Violetta Valéry, the doomed Parisian courtesan who finds love just as life closes in upon her. Singers in the other leading roles fully matched her performance, and sets and costumes from the original 2008 FGO production vividly recreated the world of 19th-century French high society. A second cast will sing the three principal roles in four of the eight upcoming performances in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

The role of Violetta is a notoriously difficult one to pull off, but Alejandres did the role justice, with a voice that soared over the orchestra as she expressed the young woman’s desperation to cling to life and to love.

The aria Sempre libera came off almost as a mad scene, as Alejandres brought fierce desperation to Violetta’s unconvincing declaration of allegiance to the pleasures of the moment. Her coloratura was astonishing, with runs coming off with the articulated precision of a pianist, but with a lightness and vitality that expressed her character’s swirling emotions. In the crucial scene with her lover Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont, in which she makes the heartwrenching decision to leave Alfredo, she expressed her despair and resignation in a voice whose soft, glowing tones filled the hall. Her passionate declaration of love for Alfredo as she prepares to leave him, was one of those great moments that defines opera.

One of the great pleasures of the evening was the singing of the Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro as Alfredo’s father. He was the portrait of middle-class respectability, with silk top hat and walking stick, the classic image of the father whose job is to spoil things for everyone else. But antique as the character’s motivations may have been, as he tried to protect his family’s honor from association with Violetta, Caoduro brought great depth of feeling and vocal splendor to the role. Rarely will you hear such warmth and tonal beauty in the aria Di Provenza, in which he tries to convince Alfredo to return home, with bright, glowing top notes, natural, graceful phrasing, and fatherly tenderness in the lower register.

With long dark hair that gave him the dramatic appearance of a 19th century poet, the Italian tenor Ivan Magrì was a virile presence as Violetta’s lover. A student of the late Luciano Pavarotti, Magrì has made most of his career in Europe. His light, agile voice effectively communicated the ardor of youthful love, and he could summon up the passion and power for the great moments, such as the gambling scene in which he confronts a rival for Violetta and the final scene, in which he pleads for her to live.

The production team of director Bliss Hebert and set and costume designer Allen Charles Klein created scenes of striking lavishness that captured the glamour and decadence of fashionable Paris. The opening scene at Violetta’s house glittered with elegant furnishings, chandeliers, wall hangings and guests in evening dress. The second act scene at the home of Violetta’s wealthy friend Flora was masterfully executed, one of those operatic scenes that dazzles with dance, scenery, singing and action, with particularly fine work by the chorus members costumed as gypsies, matadors and party guests.

The orchestra turned in one of its best performances yet under the baton of music director Ramon Tebar, who conducted as animatedly as any of the singers on stage. The hushed passage in the strings that opens the opera was rendered with exquisite sensitivity and technical polish, and it was all the more moving when this music returned toward the end, rising in intensity in a series of violin trills as Violetta lay dying.

Of the secondary roles, the most notable was Adam Lau as the Baron, pompous in red sash and muttonchops, whose sonorous bass provided a firm underpinning to the ensemble section that closes the second act.

This production wraps up what has been a highly successful season for Florida Grand Opera, once the most maddeningly uneven of South Florida’s major musical organizations. Next season will be a much more adventurous one than the parade of well-executed repertoire standards offered this season. Opening with Mourning Becomes Electra, a 1967 work by the American composer Marvin David Levy, the season continues with Verdi’s Nabucco, Puccini’s Tosca and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

Florida Grand Opera’s production of La Traviata, with Alejandres, Magrì and Caoduro, continues Tuesday, Friday, May 2 and 5. The second cast will feature Suzanne Vinnik, John Bellemer and Joo Won Kang in performances Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday and May 4. fgo.org; 800-741-1010.

Maria Alejandres as Violetta and Giorgio Caoduro as Germont in FGO’s “La Traviata.” Photo: Gaston de Cardenas



Posted in Performances

6 Responses to “FGO closes season with a dramatic, vividly sung “Traviata””

  1. Posted Apr 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm by Carlos

    Even though the costumes did not coincide with La Traviata epoc, the staging was atractive and the singers were excellent.
    I hope that FGO continues with this quality of work and not a fiasco like the last Carmen production with the chairs.
    “Good job”!

  2. Posted Apr 22, 2013 at 5:44 pm by Jeremy

    A musically brilliant job done by Alejandres and Tebar with two very good male counterparts, good show.

  3. Posted Apr 22, 2013 at 7:49 pm by Allen Charles Klein

    For anyone who might be interested, the period we chose for the costumes, was an homage to Luchino Visconti, who chose this same period for his famous La Scala TRAVIATA with Maria Callas.

  4. Posted Apr 22, 2013 at 9:35 pm by Carlos

    With all do respect I commend the costume design of this production paying homage to Visconti but the truth of the matter is that the costume period for Traviata has always been the mid 1850’s couture no mater where it is being performed but this presentation was one of a kind.

  5. Posted Apr 23, 2013 at 8:48 am by Tom Gonzalez

    Singing, staging, and production was indeed great. There is a frequent misconception, however, that a conductor who is “animated” is great. Sure, the novices in the audience who don’t know about how an orchestra needs to play together will appreciate convulsive and incoherent gestures from a conductor, but an orchestra certainly does not. While watching Tebar, I was amazed by how hard the orchestra had to work to stay together. Things would be tighter with someone who understands the craft. The musicians of the orchestra deserve a lot of credit for turning out what they did.

  6. Posted Apr 24, 2013 at 9:20 am by Julio

    About the performance on April 23rd: this was an excellent production, with singers displaying amazing passion. Maria Alejandres was superb, not to take any merit away from the rest of the singers and the excellent work of the orchestra with Tebar. And the costumes, decorations and lighting design were great, enhancing the overall effect. One of the best productions I’ve seen in the last five seasons.

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