October 19, 2009

La Traviata: Torment [cough-cough] & Delight [kiss-kiss]

Focile%20as%20Violetta.jpg Violetta%20%26%20Alfredo.jpg
Focile & Pittas, top; Guitérrez & Demuro, bottom. Seattle Opera photos by Rosarii Lynch

It's the original Anna Nicole story: first you party, then you die. Yes, there's torment, but pleasure comes first. A familiar operatic plot (Moulin Rouge, La Bohème), telegraphed by the heroine's consumptive hack as the curtain rises: she's a-gonna croak before the night's out.

Couple of years ago, the great Sicilian soprano Nuccia Focile wheezed and expired as Mimi on this same stage. She returned to town as Nedda and got herself stabbed by Tonio in Pagliacci. Now she's back, no less doomed and even more delicious as Violetta, the courtesan who inspires love, betrayal and some of Verdi's most glorious music. "Sempre libera," she proclaims, opting for a carefree life of opulent ballgowns and lavish parties, but she gives her heart to Alfredo and finds true love. Then the lovebirds are betrayed by Alfredo's uptight father; by the time things are straightened out, it's too late.

An opulent and lavish production, this Traviata, from San Francisco Opera, bathed in rich orchestral tones under the baton of Brian Garman (whose day job is directing Seattle Opera's Young Artist Program). American tenor Dimitri Pittas is a stocky (rather than saucy) Alfredo, overshadowed by his sonorous father, baritone Charles Taylor (last heard in Seattle as Amonasro in Aida). But the show depends on the performer who sings Violetta, and it's as a dramatic actress that Focile creates her character, well aware that her life will be short, torn between the pleasures of endless parties and the deep love she feels for Alfredo. Focile's vocal talents give particular poignancy to her Act I aria, "È strano! È strano!" in which she acknowledges both the burden (croce) and delight (delizia) of love. (There's even a blog titled Croce & Delizia; it's about baking cookies.) Focile's voice is on the light side, as Violettas go (compared, say, to Callas), but her phrasing is impeccable. She doesn't try to impress you with knockout high notes; she stays in character: a brave woman with a fatal disease, alone in "the desert of Paris," a little terrified that she might be able to escape her life as a courtesan through the redemptive delight of true love.

UPDATE: Silver cast shimmers, according to early reports. Eglise Guitérrez, local favorite, in fine voice, and tenor Francesco Demuro making his North American debut to standing ovation.

Seattle Opera presents Verdi's La Traviata, through Oct. 31. Tickets start at $25. Box office: call 206.389.7676 or 800.426.1619, or purchase online.

Guitterez%20%26%20Demuro%20Act%201.jpg Guiterrez%20%26%20Demuro.jpg

Posted by Ronald Holden at October 19, 2009 9:00 AM | TrackBack

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