Feb. 18--Only 20 years ago, La Traviata was nearly unperformable due to a lack of true Verdi sopranos able to meet the vocal and dramatic demands of the central role.
Now, a typical night at, say, the Latvian State Opera has a vocally capable, dramatic adept Violetta. And the way the Academy of Vocal Arts turns out Italianate singers, the rosy fortunes of Verdi's most durable opera won't change anytime soon. The new production that opened Saturday had a consistently mighty cast that sometimes seemed on the verge of breaking down the walls of the tiny Helen Corning Warden Theater.
Maybe too much vocal muscle was exercised in a relentlessly forthright performance so low on subtlety, so high on know-how that La Traviata bordered on seeming efficient. But subtlety and depth are, for young singers, acquirable. What one doesn't often hear is the exhilaration of youthful discovery that was so apparent here, urged on by the especially emphatic music director Christofer Macatsoris.
One can't hope for much more than a basic production in such a small theater, but more-than-solid ideas were apparent in stage director David Gately's retelling of how tubercular courtesan Violetta gives up her old life for a man whose family then insists they must part.
In the first act, when Violetta (ChloÉ Moore) is given what might normally be a routine kiss from the smitten Alfredo, she registered shock with the realization her life until then was meaningless. The Act III death scene was particularly moving, thanks to her true-to-life death throes, involving final bursts of energy.
Curiously, soprano Moore chose to play Violetta with mind-over-matter desperation throughout the act, the robustness of her singing hardly suggesting Violetta's dire medical condition. But you had to be moved by her degree of conviction. Her tone quality wasn't lovely but was a sure vehicle for the role's wide-ranging emotions, as well as the different kinds of singing demanded by each act. She's more a lyric than a coloratura soprano, but she does both well, even if she chose not to go for optional high notes.
Tenor William Davenport, as Alfredo, was a bit more green. Though his voice has its own evolved personality, he employs Luciano Pavarotti mannerisms that feel inauthentic. His stage deportment could also use some work.
Aside from some easily-remedied tentativeness in his middle voice, baritone Jared Bybee was a fully realized Germont, though some of the more heroic Verdi roles are probably years away.
Macatsoris tends to search out the molten core of any opera he conducts, though here he accommodated the opera's superficiality. The Act I Drinking Song, for one, emphasized the oom-pah elements of the music with a less-than-vigorous tempo, as if the conductor didn't like these onstage characters. But why should he? They're mostly users who live for gambling and sex.
Subsequent performances Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Feb. 25 at the Helen Corning Warden Theater. 215-735-1685 or www.avaopera.org.
Hear a live recording Sunday afternoon on WRTI (90.1 FM) after the Phila. Orchestra broadcast.
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