La Traviata, Chicago Lyric Opera, September 1993

Curtain rises on the Lyric:`La Traviata' is memorable
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune 20 September 1993

With the Chicago Symphony's Verdi Requiem still ringing in our ears,
Lyric Opera capped off a memorable Verdi weekend Saturday night at the
Civic Opera House with a compelling new production of "La Traviata."

The lady of the camellias proved an eminently suitable guest of honor
for a season-opening gala at Lyric: lavish, colorful, tuneful, romantic
and, above all, Italian. That she gave the company one of its finest
opening nights in recent memory owed primarily to several factors,
notably the extraordinarily moving Violetta of June Anderson, Frank
Galati's sensitive direction and the handsome, dramatically apt designs
by Desmond Heeley. But this was a "Traviata" in which every
aspect-singing, acting, conducting, stagecraft-signaled a true team
effort and served to breathe musical and dramatic freshness into a
familiar opera.

Heeley's painted forecurtain rises on a Paris salon that perfectly
mirrors the hedonistic lifestyle Violetta will soon renounce, a grand,
if somewhat corroded, palace of pleasures that has seen too many vulgar
parties. With the third act we are back in her salon, now a barren,
deserted sickroom over which death stands chill vigil, thanks in no
small measure to Duane Schuler's atmospheric lighting.

Galati neatly foreshadows the courtesan's consumptive end in the opening
freeze-frame, paints the interaction of character with telling
psychological strokes and generally trusts the composer to tell the
story his way.

The show belongs, of course, to Violetta Valery. Anderson quite simply
has done nothing finer for Lyric Opera. She internalized every emotion
of the role with her usual intensity and conviction, from desperate
gaiety to startled joy at her first stirrings of love for Alfredo, right
on through to her deathbed scene, which tugged mightily at the
heartstrings of even the most jaded operagoers. Every dramatic gesture
seemed carefully thought out, yet nothing appeared mannered or merely

The soprano's bright tone tended to lose color and body at the highest
climaxes, around C and D-flat. But her fiorature were uniformly true,
she was able to project easily throughout the theater even when singing
softly (how beautifully she floated the bel canto line of "Addio, del
passato," giving us both verses of the aria), and she commanded the
audience's sympathy like the canny singing actress she is. Anderson's
Violetta lives up to the great Lyric tradition.

Her Alfredo, Giuseppe Sabbatini, began a little stiffly but soon was
tapping the necessary reserves of Latin passion. He looked dashing, and
his high, forwardly placed, somewhat reedy tenor matched Anderson's
flexibility while bringing welcome directness and sincerity to the role.

The much-touted 30-year-old Siberian bass-baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky,
in his U.S. opera debut, scored an immediate sensation as the elder
Germont. The voice is the genuine Verdi article, a warm, mellow,
splendidly resonant instrument that commands long phrases with amazing
breath control and tonal security, never forcing for effect, always
musical and true. His acting is as yet a mite stolid, although this
Germont shed some of his sternly moral dignity as his compassion for
Violetta grew (there was more than a hint of sexual attraction between
them). Hvorostovsky clearly is an important new singer; one can only
hope he resists the urge to go too far, too fast.

Lyric surrounded these principal singers with an able cast of

Bruno Bartoletti (whose Lyric "Traviata" connection goes back 37 years)
conducted with a practiced hand, following the singers attentively even
if a few scenes wanted rhythmic animation and the ensemble at the end of
Act II was not together. He restored some traditional cuts and observed
others (Germont's cabaletta and the second verse of the tenor cabaletta
were dropped).


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