Arts & Events

Los Angeles Opera’s LA TRAVIATA

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday October 03, 2014 - 01:17:00 PM

In her fifth role in Los Angeles, soprano Nino Machaidze consolidated her status as a favorite of Angeleno audiences with a superbly sung Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, which I heard on Friday, September 26 at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. This production, staged by Marta Domingo, reprised the Los Angeles pairing of Nino Machaidze and Placído Domingo heard in June in Massenet’s Thais. In La Traviata as in Thais, Placído Domingo sang a baritone rather than a tenor role, continuing his exploration of the baritone repertory, which he handles with as much vocal artistry as distinguished his tenor repertory. In La Traviata Domingo admirably sang the role of Giorgio Germont, father of Violetta’s lover, Alfredo Germont. As Alfredo, Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz turned in a sturdy performance that grew in stature as the opera progressed. 

As Production Designer and Director, Marta Domingo indulged in a question-able conceit in drawing a parallel between the demi-mondaines of Paris in the opera’s setting in the 1850s and the flappers of the American 1920s. By staging La Traviata in Art Deco sets and costuming the female partygoers in flapper-style dresses, adding a vintage automobile in one scene, Marta Domingo updated to the American 1920s Verdi’s tale of 1850s Paris and the high society courtesan Violetta Valery. This updating didn’t always work, however. By the opera’s final scene, the whole Art Deco updating was simply jettisoned in favor of an absurd quasi-abstract staging featuring a round white bed on a bare stage with a backdrop of a night sky filled with stars and snow falling. Hardly an appropriate setting for a woman dying of tuberculosis!  

In Act I’s opening scene, Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Alfredo sang a robust Brindisi. Then alone with Violetta, he launched into a passionate, if naïve, declaration of love at first sight in the aria “Un di felice.” Violetta cautions Alfredo that she knows nothing of love, but she gives him a flower and invites him to return. Alfredo is overjoyed and sings of the mysterious power of love as he takes his leave, promising to return tomorrow.  

Left alone, Violetta sings her three-stage reflection on love, beginning with “E strano,” then transitioning into “Ah, forse e lui,” and concluding with “Sempre libera.” As Violetta, soprano Nino Machaidze brought out all the confusion and hesitancy in this set of reflections, beginning with Violetta’s perplexity at the emotions aroused in her by Alfredo, then progressing to a thought that “perhaps he’s the one,” then brushing off these ‘natural’ emotions as madness (“folia”) and vowing to persist in her ‘unnatural’ social role of kept women, ‘free’ to go with any man wealthy enough to bankroll her lavish lifestyle. This dichotomy between ‘natural’ emotions and social roles expected of us remains the crux of the opera, as Violetta discovers to her dismay. Vocally, Nino Machaidze was superb, steady in all registers, with a plummy mid-range and scin-tillating high notes. Still in the early stages of her career, Nino Machaidze is clearly near the top rank of sopranos, perhaps not yet on a par with Anna Netrebko but in the same rank with Sonya Radvanovsky, who just completed her marvelous run as Norma in San Francisco. (See my review in a previous issue.)  

In Los Angeles, Act II of La Traviata brought together Nino Machaidze and Placído Domingo in the poignant encounter between Violetta and Giorgio Germont. Never has this encounter been so filled with vocal and dramatic poignancy. As Act II opens, it is clear that in spite of her earlier misgivings (expressed in “Sempre libera”), Violetta is now deliriously happy in the love she shares with Alfredo. Then Alfredo’s father shows up; and as Giorgio Germont begins to spell out all the reasons why he urges Violetta to break up with Alfredo, it gradually becomes clear to Violetta that society – and society’s rules – will not allow her to live in happiness with Alfredo. Her sordid past is an obstacle to the marriage plans of Alfredo’s sister; and Alfredo’s father pleads with Violetta to do what is necessary to restore the family honor of the Germonts. In the baritone role of Giorgio Germont, Placído Domingo sang brilliantly, with ringing mid-range tones and deep, dark low tones as well as bracing high notes. Never was a Giorgio Germont more sympathetic! Ultimately, he persuades Violetta to sacrifice her love for Alfredo for the honor of the Germont family and the happiness of Alfredo’s sister. Never was this sacrifice more deeply felt by the audience. 

When Violetta departs abruptly for Paris, leaving Alfredo a parting note, there ensues another extremely poignant scene, this time between Germont père and Germont fils. Although this encounter was beautifully sung, I objected to the decision of Director Marta Domingo to portray Alfredo as weak and childish, even falling re-peatedly to the floor in his devastation at the news of Violetta’s departure and in his obstinate refusal to heed his father’s admonitions. Likewise, in the final gambling scene in Act II, when Germont père confronts Germont fils and rebukes him for his disrespectful treatment of Violetta, Alfredo again grovels on the floor like a scolded child, (which perhaps he is, though this staging carries this interpretation a bit far).  

Ultimately, Violetta, Alfredo and Giorgio Germont are reconciled on Violetta’s deathbed. This reconciliation, she sings, comes too late. But she relishes it none-theless. She even buys in for a moment to Alfredo’s “Parigi o cara” in which he paints a picture of the two lovers leaving Paris and going to the country where her health will be restored. Violetta takes up both Alfredo’s melody and his words and joins him in a dreamy duet, one they both try desperately to believe in, to little avail. Moments later, Violetta dies, bringing La Traviata to a heart-wrenching close. This Los Angeles Opera production of La Traviata was one of the most beautifully sung presentations of La Traviata I have ever heard.