In Italian with English surtitles
Date: 1, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12
Reviewer: Elizabeth Paterson
Jonathan Darlington Director Nancy Hermiston ; Chorus director
Leslie Uyeda Scenery designer Robert Perdziola Lighting design Gerald King
Vancouver Opera closes its season with its strongest production, a sensitive and moving performance of Verdi's La Traviata.
The opera is based on the novel and play La Dame aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas the younger, a fictionalized account of his own affair with the famous Marie Plessis who enchanted the Paris demi-monde in the 1840's. She lived briefly with Dumas until economic reality outweighed young love and she returned to her old life. They were both 20. Three years later she was dead.
Nancy Hermiston has bravely cast relatively inexperienced singers as the young lovers, achieving a charming freshness and passion in their approach.
Alfredo (Roger Honeywell) wore a goofy, adolescent grin while he and Violetta were happy together. Later, after his father has persuaded Violetta to leave him, he expressed real grief and rage. Honeywell can sing as well as he acts and has made a moving character out of - to modern eyes - a spoilt brat.
John Avey as Germont, Alfredo's father, gave a solid performance, nuanced enough to show a man capable of warm affection beneath the self-absorbed heavy father persona we first meet. Convinced that he will get back his family, Germont asks Violetta to give up Alfredo, her sole chance of escape to that same happy ideal. Avey showed a genuine rapport for Violetta as herself to set against his cruelty.
But this is Violetta's opera. Verdi has made a complete character full of charm and intelligence torn by contradictory emotion. Madeline Bender has a voluptuous enchanting voice, fully able to express Violetta's passion, affection, joy, despair. She was always responsive to the other characters on stage. Indeed, it was perhaps this sensitive engagement displayed by all the principals (including Annina) that lifted the production into the realms of excellence.
The smaller parts were uniformly good and played with realism. Jonathan Liebich gave Baron Douphol a nice character arc, Angus Bell was a competent and kind Dr. Grenvil, James McClennan flashed charm and curly locks as Gastone and Richard (Doug) Devillier was suitably unpleasant as d'Obigny. Sandra Stringer though occasionally inaudible was a lively Flora and Karen Ydenberg was a quiet presence as the faithful Annina.
The opera chorus was, as always, in tune, on time and in character. Furthermore they played bullfighters and gypsies with dash and ladies and gentlemen with elegance.
Both dash and elegance were trademarks of this production. Robert Perdziola's intelligent sets achieved intimacy when needed while giving the chorus plenty of room to move. The house in the country, gorgeously lit by Gerald King, was idyllically beautiful.
This is a real two-hanky tear jerker, not to be missed.
© 2004, Elizabeth Paterson