Liparit Avestisvan, Rachel Willis-Sørensen. Photo: Cory Weaver.

La Traviata–LAOpera

Written by:
Karen Weinstein
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I love La Traviata. It may not be the most sophisticated opera passion, but Verdi’s score and his heroine Violeta, dignity, despite her rank in society, are a robust combination. Violeta (Rachel Willis-Sørensen) is based on a real person, Marie Duplessis. She was born into poverty and a violent home. She taught herself to read and write. Yes, she was a courtesan, but she hosted one of the most sophisticated and intellectual salons of Paris and bedded the likes of Franz Liszt and Alexander Dumas. She was a 19th century Alma Mahler. Duplessis had led a full life when she died at age 23. The demimonde depicted in La Traviata was familiar to Verdi. In its time, 1853, La Traviata was a courageous story of a woman in control of her life. The censors were outraged.

I approached the evening with love and anticipation. Verdi did not disappoint, oh no. The music is just as lovely and lyrical as I recalled. The scenery by Robert Innes Hopkins, however, is cheesy; his women’s costumes are stiff and poorly suited for seduction or the singers wearing them. Shawna Lucey’s direction results in uninviting parties and unconvincing love scenes. Neither the costumes nor the singers at Violetta’s party are up to semi-cancan kicks they are sked to execute, though one young member did toss off a quick bit of twerking. Flora’s party in Act III is a silly mishmash of cross dressing and feigned and sexless merriment.

Let us get to the meat of the evening, the singers. Why not start with the highlight of the evening. Kihun Yoon, an alumnus of the Doming-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, is magnificent as Germont. His full baritone is complimented by his presentation of power and strength. Sadly, despite Liparit Avetisyan’s beautiful tenor he lacks the lady-killer presence or the physical power to play against Rachel Willis-Sørensen. Willis-Sørensen presents with a sustained coloratura but fades in the more subtle passages pushing the imbalance between her Violeta and Avetisyan’s Alfredo all the more off kilter. The program describes her “timbre, of marmoreal beauty.” Like marble she does not come across as warm and loveable. In a phrase, the duo lacks chemistry. Only in her confrontation with Yoon’s Germont is Willis-Sørensen playing against someone of equal strength.

Several times during the evening I caught myself thinking, “just close your eyes and let the music wash over you. The orchestra is strong, for the most part the voices are fine. The music is the main thing you came for.” For the music, the evening is worth it.

Karen Weinstein

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