Old and new regimes meet and cross in the Los Angeles Opera's "La Traviata," which drew a reasonably delirious throng to the company's 21st season opener. Old was the production by Marta Domingo -- garish, clotted and overcrowded as in its 1999 and 2001 manifestations, but at least not as outrageous as the boss's wife's ill-advised update of a year ago.

Old and new regimes meet and cross in the Los Angeles Opera’s “La Traviata,” which drew a reasonably delirious throng to the company’s 21st season opener. Old was the production by Marta Domingo — garish, clotted and overcrowded as in its 1999 and 2001 manifestations, but at least not as outrageous as the boss’s wife’s ill-advised update of a year ago. Once again Violetta and Alfredo sang of their troth in the proper 1851 setting. And how they sang.

American soprano Renee Fleming made her long-awaited company debut in the role she was born to sing. She possesses a golden floating tone, making it gorgeously apparent from Violetta’s first lines of greeting that she arrived in the best of vocal conditions with a glowing stage presence to match. Seconding her vocal splendor was the Alfredo of Latino heartthrob Rolando Villazon, also in fine vocal condition — if undercut now and then by a permissive excess of bounce in Mamma Domingo’s staging.

As the misguided Papa Germont there was veteran baritone Renato Bruson – fondly remembered as the Falstaff, when Los Angeles had no opera company and Verdi’s comedy was produced by the Philharmonic under Carlo Maria Giulini — still in fine shape 24 years later.

It only took a few notes into Saturday’s opener, however, to signal yet another major regime change at the company, in the finely shaded, balanced reading of the mournful thread of string tone that sets the tragedy in motion.

The “Traviata” Prelude, under the company’s debuting music director James Conlon, was as much a welcoming as Violetta’s opening lines would prove a few moments later: a real music-maker at work on music others can easily toss off.

Conlon’s chores this season include the meatiest chunks of the repertory, including Wagner’s “Tannhauser” and a much-longed-for revival of the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht “Mahagonny.”

Further signs of the changing times: Cameras stationed around the hall, filming the performance for release by Decca on DVD.

La Traviata

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; 3,098 seats; $350 top

Production

Los Angeles Opera presents Giuseppe Verdi's four-act opera, libretto by F. M. Piave, based on Alexandre Dumas' "La Dame aux Camellias." Conductor, James Conlon. Staged by Marta Domingo, designed by Giovanni Agostinucci; revival of the 1999 production, co-production with the Washington National Opera and the Opera Royal de Wallonie, Liege, Belgium.

Crew

Choreography, Kitty McNamee. Opened, reviewed Sept. 9, 2006; also Sept. 12, 17.

Cast

Violetta - Renee Fleming Alfredo - Rolando Villazon Germont - Renato Bruson
With: Suzanna Guzman, Anna Alkimova, Daniel Montenegro, Lee Poulis, Philip Kraus, James Creswell.
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