Opera Review: Verdi’s La Traviata

BY ANNA BROOK

Baritone James Westman as Giorgio Germont and soprano Dina Kuznetsova as Violetta.
Tenor Garrett Sorenson as Alfredo and soprano Dina Kuznetsova as Violetta with the cast of La Traviata.

Verdi can do no wrong. His genius, combined with the talented cast of the Boston Lyric Opera (BLO), make for an enjoyable production. As part of the 2005-2006 Diva Season, the BLO presented Verdi’s masterpiece La Traviata. Translated as “The Fallen Woman,” it is the story of Violetta Valery as she falls from a life of pleasure to the pain of a lost love.

The stage and costumes are thoughtfully designed, assigning a color to every act. The curtain is raised to reveal a room adorned in sumptuous red to highlight the decadence of Violetta’s lifestyle as a Parisian courtesan with suitors galore. In the first act, surrounded by guests wearing shades of red and black, she laughs off Alfredo’s advances and proclamations of love, pledging herself to parties and pleasure. Yet by the end of the act, she wonders whether Alfredo is the man to teach her what true love is after all.

The second act opens with Violetta and Alfredo happily living together in a quiet country estate. The pure white background stands in stark contrast to the reds of Violetta’s previous life. Trouble arrives when Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, begs Violetta to leave Alfredo because their relationship is scandalizing the Germont family, ruining Giorgio’s daughter’s ability to marry. Violetta is horrified at the prospect of leaving Alfredo, but sacrifices her happiness for the young couple’s sake.

To prevent Alfredo from following her, Violetta pretends that she has gone back to her former lifestyle. Yet Alfredo follows her to a party, where everything is draped in purple; some of the guests’ red costumes hearken back to the debaucheries of the first act. Violetta tells Alfredo she left him because she was asked to leave by the only man who had a right to do so. Alfredo decides that it must be the Baron who escorted Violetta to the party and challenges him to a duel in which the Baron is eventually wounded. Storming out of the ballroom in a fit of anger, Alfredo throws money at Violetta announcing to all the guests that he has now paid her back.

The last act of the opera opens in a drab brown and gray room, where Violetta lies on her deathbed. She reads a letter from Giorgio, which explains that Alfredo knows the truth about why she left him, and that the two are coming to see her. The men rush in, but it is too late. Violetta dies in Alfredo’s arms, begging him to remember her and to go on with his life.

Violetta’s descent from the center of Parisian society to her bedridden state is highlighted by silent tableaus during the introductions to the first and last acts. The first shows her preparing for the party. The second shows her in an unsuccessful attempt to reach for a glass of water near her bedside. While they keep those in the audience who think that introductions are for finishing up conversation occupied, the premature visuals detract from the experience of complete immersion in the music. The orchestra under Stephen Lord’s baton needs no help in conveying the mood of the scenes.

Tenor Garrett Sorenson skillfully portrays Alfredo. His first few lines are tentative, not sure how Violetta will respond to his declarations of love. Once Violetta gives him a flower and permission to see her again, his voice becomes more assertive and remains that way throughout the opera. He is at his best during the second and third acts, singing about the joys of his life with Violetta.

Violetta, sung by soprano Dina Kuznetsova, starts out flirty and a bit tense, circling throughout the party crowd, charming men yet pushing them away with her fan. Once her character discovers love, Kuznetsova truly comes into the role and channels Violetta’s emotions, from being happily in love, to making the difficult decision to leave Alfredo for the sake of another, to waiting for him to arrive although she knows death is near.

Baritone James Westman provides the voice of trouble and reconciliation. His dignified Giorgio Germont evokes sympathy, as he must decide between his daughter’s happiness and that of Violetta. His calm voice contrasts Sorenson’s during the second act when Giorgio urges Alfredo to forget Violetta and return to their home in Provence. This contrast appears again in the third act when Giorgio stops Alfredo as he is throwing money and cursing Violetta. The sincerity in Westman’s voice in the final scene conveys Giorgio’s regrets over convincing Violetta to leave his son.

The excellent voices and orchestra make for a wonderful production of La Traviata, with the scenery adding all the right accents. The standing ovation at the end of the performance was well deserved.

Rating: ***1/2

Anna Brook, 2L, has never heard a Verdi opera she did not like. And don’t get her started on his Requiem.

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