Thursday, November 01, 2007

La Traviata

You know you’re seeing a low budget production when the conductor gets up at the end of Act 1, grabs a flashlight, jumps on the stage and starts moving sets.

Capitol Opera’s production of “La Traviata,” at the Veterans Memorial Theater for one more performance, 3 p.m. today, is a very low budget production. It’s so low budget that there are no technicians or designers listed in the program, so it’s hard to know whom to blame for the technical problems.

An opera should be judged on its music, but there is also a world which is created, whether that world be one of a concert version or a semi-staged version or a full fledged production. When you stage an opera, even one with only seven people in the cast, there should be some care taken to make all the elements mesh.

The set (which I learned from the web site, not from the program, was probably designed by Roger Smith...but I may be wrong) was lovely, for a low budget production. It had elements which nicely created the illusion of a 19th century drawing room. Why then, for heaven’s sake, did they decide to add chrome chairs, probably borrowed from the meeting room of the Veterans Memorial Center? It threw the entire “feel” of the set completely off. Didn’t anybody have a few wooden chairs to lend to the production?

Likewise, Violetta (Elizabeth Geantner) and her maid Aninna (Elena Yakobovsky) wore lovely dresses which nicely represented the period, while Flora (Jennifer Kay) and all the men were in modern dress. Alfredo (Zachary Sheely) looked like he’d just walked out of an office on the UCD campus, and Dr. Grenvil (Roger Smith) wore a trench coat, carried a briefcase, and used a shiny modern stethoscope.

The lights seemed to be run by the Veterans Memorial Theater staff, with light cues being given from the conductor (Corey Wilkins), turning around from the pit to indicate a light change. (The house manager also told us that Wilkins was the director of the piece, but he is not given program credit for it.) At one point, I think Wilkins was running the lights himself, since he disappeared for awhile, during which time the lights went out, then he came back in, and wandered around seeming to look for a way to get into the orchestra pit.

Even the printed program has problems, with the opera described as “a masterpiece of fated love,” when I think they meant ill-fated. The synopsis for Act 2 also lists “a band of fortune-telling gypsies and some matadors who sing of Piquillo and his coy sweetheart.” The synopsis must have been lifted out of some book without even being read, since there were no gypsies or matadors and no song of Piquillo.

Despite the length I have given to these glaring elements, the opera itself – the singing and acting, that is – was better than I expected. “La Traviata” is based on Alexander Dumas’ “Camille” (“La Dame aux Camelias”), and tells the story of a romance between the consumptive courtesan Violetta and a young, penniless nobleman, Alfredo Germont, a relationship that cannot end well, with tuberculosis as the silent third partner.

Geantner stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. She has a wonderful soprano that is occasionally a little uneven in the upper range, but is mostly impressive. She is also a convincing actress who wrings every bit of emotion she can from the character.

The same cannot be said of Sheely as her lover Alfredo. Sheely’s voice is a bit tight and he had difficulty with some passages. He could bring convincing emotion from the character beautifully, as in the Act 2 scene with his father (Olando Tognozzi), but it was not consistent throughout the 3 acts.

Jennifer Kay gave a strong performance as Flora who hosts the two parties which take place during the opera and Elena Yakobovsky was likewise strong in the small role of Aninna, Violeta’s companion.

The cast was filled out by Roger Smith in multiple roles (marquis, Barone, Dr. Grenvil) and Steve Hill (Gastone).

Stella Wang did yeoman duty as keyboard accompanist, nicely augmented by Alexi Kodash and Tania Acajedo on strings.

It was a shame that the Veterans Memorial Theater was so sparsely populated because despite its many technical shortcomings, this is an enjoyable 2-1/4 hours. Reviews from previous Capitol Opera shows indicate that other performances have been given in much smaller venues and I suspect that in a smaller venue this would be quite a different show.

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