Review: SF Opera presents a beautiful short story “Traviata” destined to last for decades
Any opera company that intends to revisit the same small number of standard classical works again and again – that is, every opera company in the country – faces a practical challenge: if the same sets and costumes must be presented repeatedly as a showcase for different casts, these physical elements must be durable, flexible and attractive enough that the public does not think “This again?” as soon as the curtain goes up.
The smashing new version of Verdi’s “La Traviata” which debuted in San Francisco Opera on Friday, November 11, represents an elegant and dynamic response to this problem.
Director Shawna LucyThe production of , which features resplendent sets and costumes by designer Robert Innes Hopkins and nuanced lighting by Michael Clark, is the latest step in general manager Matthew Shilvock’s ongoing project to create a series of “legacy productions” that can be deployed most often. revives the operas of the repertoire.
So this “Traviata”, which on opening night also marked a welcome return for the company’s opera during the Ballpark simulcast deals at Oracle Park, had implications far beyond this presentation. particular.
Friday’s opener featured a powerful and charismatic company debut by South African soprano Pretty Yende as Violetta, the title’s “fallen woman” who only finds love and happiness in time for the tear off again. It also included engaging performances in the two male leads of American tenor Jonathan Tetelman and Italian baritone Simone Piazzola, both also appearing with the company for the first time.
music director Eun Sun Kimin the first of a planned series of annual Verdi productions, seems to become increasingly tender and expressive in its treatment of this music, displaying an ever-deeper communicative bond with the musicians of the Opera Orchestra.
But all of those aspects will come and go over time, as the trappings of this production will be with us for decades to come. So how are audiences in San Francisco likely to welcome yet another iteration of this “Traviata” in the years to come?
My money is on affection and pleasure. Hopkins’ interior sets, built in the company’s stage and costume shops, manage to be both spacious and intimate, with huge ceilings and vast open spaces that never let the characters get lost. Violetta’s apartment is airy and stylish, unlike the equally opulent but rather kitschy digs of her friend Flora.
For the Act 1 party scene, the costumes offer an eye-catching range of subtly shaded pastels, Violetta’s bright blue dress setting her apart from her hedonistic colleagues. Rarely has life in the 19th century Parisian demi-monde been so attractive. (Adult customers can get a taste of it when the company presents the immersive “Traviata Encounter” on Saturday, November 19.)
In addition to an audience of 2,700 at the War Memorial Opera House, the performance was screened at Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, to a crowd of at least 5,000, according to a spokesperson for the ‘Opera. In recognition of this institutional synergy, all of the cast members emerged for encores decked out in giant orange and black props — caps, scarves, foam fingers and more.
These gadgets were on display for some time during the extended and enthusiastic applause that greeted the cast and art direction.
Chief among them, unsurprisingly, was Yende, from whom Violetta emerged as a vibrant mix of carefree gaiety, rich emotion and haunting tragedy. In the scintillating centerpiece of Act 1 “Sempre libera,” in which Violetta reaffirms her fleeting determination to reject true love in favor of the high life, Yende unrolled a torrent of scintillating, impeccably placed vocal passages; his last aria, “Addio del passato”, was loaded with a painful sense of longing and regret.
Like his beloved Alfredo, Tetelman sang with a powerful sound and a persuasive air of urgency – particularly in the Act 2 aria “De ‘miei bollenti spiriti” – but tended to be a deadpan stage presence. . Piazzola brought a flowing, beautifully sounding vocal tone to the role of Alfredo’s stern but loving father.
Smaller roles were ably performed by mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven as Flora, soprano Elisa Sunshine as Annina, bass-baritone Philip Skinner as Baron Douphol and bass Adam Lau in the role of doctor Grenvil with the brilliant voice.
The men and women of John Keene’s Opera Chorus partied heartily without missing a step, and John Heginbotham’s choreography for Flora’s party was a delight.
Yet the most important thing here is what this new “Traviata” means for generations to come. As long as Verdi’s magnificent tragedy holds the stage at the War Memorial, patrons seem to be in good hands.
“La Traviata”: San Francisco Opera. Until December 3. $26 to $408. War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, SF 415-864-3330. Live stream available at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 16. $27.50. www.sfopera.com/digital.
“The Traviata Meeting”: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 19. $39 to $189. www.sfopera.com