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Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata is arguably the most beloved of all the Romantic tragic operas composed in Europe in the nineteenth century. It has all the elements required to appeal to opera lovers’ musical and dramatic sensibilities, with its storyline ending in the untimely death of the suffering heroine Violetta and her beloved Alfredo weeping bitterly beside her. In addition, it has two of the most demanding starring roles for soprano and tenor, and thousands of devotees turn out each time it is performed to see and hear the best singers accept the Verdi challenge once again. It is no wonder that Capital Opera Raleigh decided to launch its fifth year of existence with what its management knew to be a great crowd-pleaser.
There was indeed much to be pleased about. Although Lori Lind (Violetta) was obviously fighting the vocal difficulties caused by allergies, she did not allow them to prevent her from singing with great beauty and power throughout her performance. Tenor Daniel Stein (Alfredo Germont), however, was less than brilliant in scenes requiring a powerful dramatic and vocal presence, and his lackluster singing was all the more obvious compared to Lind’s superior technical and dramatic performance.
From the moment Lind appeared on stage, she showed herself a superb singer whose thrilling high notes, dazzling coloratura passages, and seamless legato met all one’s expectations. A few flaws did occur, especially her tendency to sing on the high side of a number of pitches, but these tended to be forgotten in the greater context of her excellent singing in all her parlante passages and arias. As singer and consummate actress, she commands the stage, especially in the exciting "Libiamo, libiamo ne lieti calici" and in her poignantly beautiful, expressive singing in the love duet with Alfredo. Her solo lines in "Sempre libera," suitably decorated with abundant coloratura passages and scintillating high notes, are a passionate statement extolling the freedom and pleasure Violetta finds in living. After all this appropriate vocal display, she is quite right to insert a sizzling high Eb in the final cadence.
Lind was just as effective in the remainder of the opera. In Act II, Violetta expresses convincingly her love for Alfredo and her desire to make him happy without much consideration for herself, but she also realizes she must put her own happiness aside and give up the man she loves. The music and vocal lines here are often tormented; reflecting Violetta’s conflicted feelings, and Lind made her audience fully aware of her character’s pain. Act III, recounting the last few hours of Violetta’s life, finds Lind reliving all Violetta’s suffering in her loss of Alfredo and knowing her time is now short. The difficult aria “Addio, del passata” comes at the end of the opera and is a test of the singer’s stamina and technical skill. Although Lind had some difficulty executing one of the frequent pianissimo high A’s Verdi calls for, she was nonetheless able to conclude the piece with great beauty and expressiveness. The remainder of her singing in this act was a highly effective dramatization of a young woman facing and finally succumbing to an untimely death.
The chief flaw in this presentation of La Traviata was the imbalance between the superb singing of Lind and the tentative singing of tenor Daniel Stein as Alfredo. Although Piave and Verdi gave the tenor ample opportunity to shine, he did not always take full advantage of it, even in his solo lines in “Libiamo,” which should be sung with authority and delight. This undesirable lack of authority in his portrayal of a man who loves Violetta the first time he sees her is present throughout his love duets with Lind, and her passion and expressiveness were in sharp contrast to his lack of conviction. Stein did not seem to be fully engaged in his singing of some of the world’s most beautiful love music, which many tenors would fight dragons to sing. He was somewhat stronger in Act II, especially in his exchanges with Lind, and was able to make the audience believe that Alfredo is indeed passionately in love with Violetta and wants her to get well so that they can live happily together. He also did justice to the lines he sang in the finale of Act II, making viewers believe that, despite his great love for Violetta, Alfredo felt her apparent betrayal of him so keenly that he could toss a purse at her feet to pay her for services rendered.
The man who gave a bravura performance in La Traviata was the magnificent baritone, Krassen Karagiozov, as Giorgio Germont, father of Alfredo. In the first scene of Act II his role has one major difficulty, dramatically speaking: Germont must insist that Violetta give up her relationship with his son because his family will be severely damaged by it. But even as he insists he discovers within himself a growing admiration for a woman who will, however unwillingly, sacrifice her happiness for the well-being of Alfredo’s family.
In the parlante lines and the beautiful duet Karagiozov sang with Lind, all these feelings are revealed, as well as the great beauty of both splendid voices. Later in the same scene, Karagiozov demonstrated in two great arias all the qualities one listens for in an excellent baritone; vocal strength and authority, beauty of tone, great range, and the ability to utilize all these strengths to sustain his part in the drama.
Other strengths in this production were the excellently trained chorus, the numerous brief solos, all of which were very well done, and the beautifully blocked stage movements, which looked purposeful and natural throughout the first act and the finale of the second act. The orchestra, conducted by Wayne Wyman, played acceptably most of the time and, under the urging of its conductor, supported the singers quite well. But too often entrances were ragged, and some of the instruments were obviously out of tune.
Special kudos must go to Wyman, who cued every singer, was always aware of everything happening on the stage, and kept the tempos strict, even when the chorus began to sing too slowly. Finally, I praise the work of costume designer Ruth Bryan, who made sure that costumes were beautiful and appropriate to 1880s France, and offer special congratulations to set designer Thomas Mauney for the transparent curtain covered with camellias through which one sees the thoughtful, melancholy face of Violetta as the prelude concludes.