In what has become for him an annual summer ritual, John Mauceri flexed his experienced operatic muscles and presented another opera-in-concert at the Hollywood Bowl Sunday night. As always, it was something well-known — this time, Verdi’s sole work on a then-contemporary subject, “La Traviata.”
This was opera au naturel more-or-less, with the cast mainly anchored closely by their music stands, with only occasional gestures, comings and goings. No costumes, no sets, no wild-eyed directors imposing their sometimes twisted visions on familiar works, no supertitles. But the 8,030 in attendance were not left completely to their own devices, for the personable Mauceri provided a lengthy, fascinating, running synopsis from the podium, with asides about the opera’s background and even some easily-assimilated bits of musical analysis.
Signaling his intentions from the Act I Prelude, Mauceri kept things moving at a mostly brisk pace, resisting the temptation to linger, giving Verdi’s tuttis their full power. He was aided in the latter by a new, unexpected richness, particularly on the bass end, emanating from the Bowl’s perennially-maligned sound system.
Mauceri also had plenty of solid help from his cast. True, soprano Elizabeth Futral (Violetta) in her Bowl debut seemed to push her voice too hard in spotlit arias like Act I’s “Sempre libera,” perhaps forgetting about the presence of microphones.
Yet she managed to tone things down and produce considerable poignancy in her Act III death throes. Frank Lopardo (Alfredo) — who despite a formidable list of big-league recording credits isn’t as celebrated as he should be — was impressive throughout the evening, displaying a darkish, steady, at times heroic tenor, pointing out the words vividly in Act II.
After a fairly colorless start, and despite the visual incongruity of looking younger than his stage “son,” baritone Earle Patriarco’s Giorgio Germont came into his own with an emotional rendition of “Di Provenza il mar.” Of the non-leads, Los Angeles Opera’s live wire Suzanna Guzman made the most vivid impression with her flirtatious, occasionally temperamental Flora.
There were a few distortions of scale that one would probably not encounter in an opera house; offstage things like Alfredo’s singing in “Sempre libera” and the raggedly-sung choral street revels of Act III should not have been sonically up front and in our faces. But anyone seeking a first experience with “La Traviata” would have come away with a good impression overall.