Once you know the L.A. Opera’s new “La Traviata” begins on a Paris sidewalk with streetwalkers plying their trade under a streetlamp, and Violetta arriving in a snazzy town car (Dusenberg, say), you might suspect the hand of Marta Domingo, local patron saint of opera-plot rewrites. This time around Domingo’s update job on Verdi’s cherishable tearjerker is not as blatant as some of her past work. Still, the music of this near-perfect small drama is so perfectly in tune with its intended era, the mid-1850s, that you have to wonder why anyone would bother to invade that sublime sense of time and place.
Production looks more like it’s had things dropped in here and there (including some nice Deco pieces) rather than being given a consistent stage design. A cluster of trees against a scribbled-on backdrop for the second-act garden scene gives particular offense; Violetta’s bed in the final scene, with its comforter of busy ring-upon-ring design, makes her look immersed in soapsuds.
Enough. This is otherwise quite a splendid “Traviata,” paced with great sensitivity and a balanced ensemble under John Fiore — whose career particularly flourishes in German houses — and with a superbly matched trio of principals to carry forward the melting tragedy of Verdi’s irresistible score.
Locally beloved ever since her triumph as Handel’s Cleopatra (milk bath and all), American soprano Elizabeth Futral sings a Violetta whose pure, high coloratura still preserves a marvelous sense of urgency. Opposite her is Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, new to the company, again remarkable for long, nicely controlled vocal lines, strong and pure. American baritone Dwayne Croft makes his “renunciation” scene with the heroine the heartbreaking climax of the opera.
Dyed-in-the-wool Verdians, who live for the day of uncut performances as written, have been tossed a few straws this time around. Violetta is allowed the repeat of the “Addio del passato” in the final act; Alfredo gets his usually cut cabaletta “O, mio rimorso” in act two (but only one stanza). Papa Germont’s ditchwater-dull cabaletta, however, goes mercifully unsung and, if memory serves, the “Matador” ballet in scene three has been cut in half: a further mercy.