FGO opens a transition season with a fresh and impassioned “Traviata”

By Lawrence Budmen

Cecilia Violetta López and Pavel Petrov star in Florida Grand Opera’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata. Photo: Edward Leal / FGO

Verdi’s La Traviata is one of the most beloved and timeless masterpieces of the operatic repertoire. Based on the novel and play The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas, the opera relates the story of the courtesan Violetta Valery through some of Verdi’s most memorable melodies. 

The score is one of the pinnacles of the composer’s middle career period and Florida Grand Opera offered a freshly conceived production and talented cast at the opening of its 82nd season on Saturday night at the Arsht Center in Miami.

Cecilia Violetta López fully embodied the role of Violetta with a bright, accurate soprano and mesmeric dramatic portrayal. This heroine was less a tragic figure than a woman who was living life to the fullest, burning the candle at both ends until the fire went dark. 

The contrasting arias “Ah, for’s è lui” and “Sempre libera” found Lopez mixing exquisitely turned bel canto and pinpoint coloratura. There was passion and urgency in her confrontation with Giorgio Germont, the father of her lover Alfredo. Convinced to leave him, her farewell cry of “Amami, Alfredo” was a rapturously vocalized outburst of heartbreak. López made the gambling scene a compelling portrait of barely repressed anger and fear. 

“Addio, del passato” was conveyed with the full emotional gamut from resignation to a glimmer of hope. Violetta’s death seemed less a climax than a new beginning in López’s portrayal.  With a light and agile voice of great beauty and vivid stage instincts, this young soprano is an artist to watch.

The Belarusian tenor Pavel Petrov made an auspicious FGO debut as Alfredo Germont. His lyric tenor can scale down to the most dulcet pianissimos but his top projects strength and exuberance. In the duets “Un di, felici” and “Parigi o cara,” his timbre was pure velvet; yet for Alfredo’s denunciation of Violetta in the gambling scene (when he feels she has betrayed him), Petrov summoned power and declamatory venom. Petrov and López’s voices blended with subtlety, their nuanced dynamics bringing extra musicality to strong vocal performances.

Troy Cook was an unusually compassionate Germont in his scene with Violetta. Cook seemed dignified and adamant that he must convince her to leave Alfredo for his family’s honor, but he was not cold and lacking in feeling. He vaulted “Di Provenza il mar” in a burnished and voluminous baritone and his rebuke of his son for insulting Violetta at the party resounded with force.

Taylor-Alexis DuPont was a standout in the supporting cast as Flora, Violetta’s party friend. Her suave mezzo and stage magnetism gave strength to the ensemble scenes. 

Joseph McBrayer was a characterful Gastone, his tenor strong and virile. Joseph Canuto Leon brought a domineering menace to Baron Douphol. Keith Klein’s soft bass-baritone amply defined Doctor Grenville’s attempt to console the dying Violetta and Sara Kennedy articulated Annina’s lines in finely hued soprano tones.

After an overly brassy first act, Joe Illick chose sensible tempos and phrased Verdi’s lines with thrust and verve. He obtained cleanly articulated playing from the alert orchestra and vigorous singing from the chorus as party guest and carnival revelers, aside from an uncertain initial entrance in the “Brindisi.” Illick maintained tension in the gambling season, keeping the voltage high.

Rosa Mercedes’ choreography filled the stage with color. The five dancers’ fleet dexterity as gypsies and matadors brought spirit and joy to the party scene before tempers flared at the gambling table.

Chia Patiño’s production was consistently compelling, presenting the story mostly in a straightforward manner but with a few new twists. The relationship between Violetta and Baron Douphol was front and center from the opera’s beginning rather than a reaction to abandoning Alfredo. In the final act, Violetta hallucinates the carnival partiers coming into her bedroom and Alfredo appearing among the crowd. 

The voice of Giorgio Germont was heard reading his letter rather than Violetta narrating it. At the conclusion, rather than falling lifeless, the protagonist walked toward the light, suggesting an afterlife. Lopez carried this revisionist ending off, making the director’s concept fully credible.

Peter Dean Beck’s sets (from Utah Opera) were both eye-filling and utilitarian and Rick Fisher’s lighting was especially effective in emphasizing the characters’ conflicting emotional states. Allen Charles Klein’s multi- colored costumes mixed period styles with showbiz flair.

This Traviata was musically and theatrically engrossing and a fine opening for a transition season of FGO management from Susan Danis to the newly arrived Maria Todaro who spoke briefly to the audience prior to the performance.

Florida Grand Opera repeats La Traviata 2 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Arsht Center in Miami and 7:30 p.m. November 30 and December 2 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. fgo.org

Posted in Performances

One Response to “FGO opens a transition season with a fresh and impassioned “Traviata””

  1. Posted Dec 01, 2023 at 5:50 pm by Marilyn Cane

    Terrific performance at the Broward Center last night.

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