This review is for the performance on Saturday, May 26, 2018.
Within the intimate space of the Riverside Theatre, Amore Opera’s production of “La Traviata” brought to the surface comedic moments hidden within Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto. While this work is not one I normally would expect humor from, this approach added to the emotional investment in the audience, as well as giving a chance to explore the characters’ personalities. After the eerie foreshadowing of the overture, guests spilled onto the stage of Violetta’s home before freezing into a sort of tableau group by group; combined with the shifting spotlight, this created the effect of a reel of vignettes providing recap of the events of the party until now.
Visually, the stage had a number of interesting choices, done by Nathan Hull. The furniture and backdrops were all of a bold and striking color; if one considers the paint-heavy backdrop to the opening tableaus, there’s undoubtedly a picturesque approach to the story. Throughout the four acts, the dusky hues of purple lighting add a dreamy flair to the ensuing events; given its constant uses creates something of a paradox where time has stood still just on the cusp between day and night, or possibly night and day; Hull has chosen to blur the lines. The only time this seems to change is during the act three dance of the gypsies and bullfighter, where the light shifts to an orange tint suggestive of a Spanish sunset. Act four, however takes an interesting direction; while Violetta’s home is in obvious disrepair, it looks like it has become stranger, and more Gothic, rather than scarcer. This is achieved through the white sheets on the furniture, bright red curtains in the center, black drapes off to the side, the return of the purple lighting, and the withered branches of a tree just outside the window, presumably dying as well.
Wine and Spirits
As Alfredo Germont, Gerardo Gaytan brought a rather endearing take on the young nobleman. Shy, uncertain, but very much in love, Gaytan’s interpretation provides an almost total contrast to the flirty assurance of Jennifer Gliere’s Violetta. An early source of laughter came just before the brindisi “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici,” where the music, conducted by Douglas Martin, takes a deliberate pause along with the gathered performers in order to cast their gazes on Alfredo, pouring himself one more glass of liquid courage before his moment to sing. The brindisi begins with the cast raising their glasses on each of the three bursts of fanfare that introduce the whirling waltz rhythm; once to their left, then to their right, before one last raise given in the direction of the audience. In the second act, Gaytan enters their country house still on cloud nine. Though he had been out hunting, this Alfredo soon finds himself pining away the hours until Violetta’s return, beginning his “De miei bollenti spiriti” while holding a pillow to his chest. When he learns of Violetta selling off all of her belongings, Gaytan’s puppy love quickly vanished and he displayed a highly-resolute spinto before rushing off to make things right. Throughout the night, Gaytan relished in Alfredo’s highs and lows, often taking the audience along with him. Though he shared a strong chemistry with Gliere, there was a moment near the end of their Act four duet, “Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo,’ where Gaytan’s eyes shifted from Violetta towards the conductor.
In the role of Violetta Valery, Jennifer Gliere was a delicate powerhouse. This interpretation of the sickly courtesan instead favored Violetta as the life of the party, with Gliere displaying vocal effervescence as good as any champagne. With this energy behind her character, it became easier to see why a marriage between Alfredo and Violetta would be frowned upon in various social circles. During the brindisi, Gliere extolled the folly of love and a life of pleasure to not only the assembled party, but the servants played by children as well, giving them a musical discourse in debauchery. After finding herself smitten by Alfredo’s charm, Gliere’s rendition of “Sempre libera” was flirtatious and defiant, escaping from her feelings with swift, downward vocal roulades, and hurried glasses of spirits as if to ward off the love song of Alfredo echoing its way towards her. Violetta’s illness, while easy to forget due to Gliere’s dynamic portrayal, comes into full swing in Act four, where we find her spending her last hour mostly suffering; at one point she rises to walk across her room, crossing herself in front of the crucifix lighted by a flickering candle before returning to bed. While the direction itself seemed arbitrary, it gave Gliere the chance to show her frailty. This weakening was finely reinforced by the frantic, heaving tears she literally falls into at the end of her aria “Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti,” which featured particularly haunting vocal trills.
Finally, Robert Garner deserves praise for his highly affectionate Giorgio Germont. After Violetta disarms his initial anger with her courtesy, he reveals a truly loving father worried for the future of his children, as evidenced by the tender lyricism in Garner’s “Pura siccome un angelo, Iddio mi die una figlia.” Overall, Garner gave a solid performance, pardoning one instance where he gets drowned out by the orchestra after he gets Violetta to pen her farewell letter to Alfredo. One of the evening’s highlights was undoubtedly Garner’s aria “Di Provenza il mar, il suol chi dal cor ti cancello?” His sonorous delivery was complimented by the choice to have the curtains of the stage close, creating a void which captures the pit of black despair left by Violetta’s absence in Alfredo’s life. While Garner’s rendition was enough to melt even the iciest heart, Alfredo rushes off to seek revenge at Flora’s party, ending the second act with roaring applause.
Ultimately, Amore Opera’s production of “La Traviata” defied many of my expectations surrounding Verdi’s work, in ways that were both refreshing and enjoyable.