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‘La Traviata’ – Now at San Francisco Opera Through July 13

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After the exciting and soulful experience of Show Boat at San Francisco Opera, the opening night performance of La Traviata seems rather ho-hum and something of an endurance test. The evening clearly belonged to conductor Nicola Luisotti whose sensitivity to Verdi’s beautiful score and all its traditions kept the pace moving and lively. Too bad it didn’t override a gnawing sense of ennui for a production that never ventures beyond “standard” and is crowded by too many look-alike ruffled gowns.

Nicole Cabell as “Violetta” delivers a fine and consistent performance, technically wonderful, every aria and duet up to par – but lacking in the thrill department. Tenor Saimir Pirgu as “Alfredo” faired better by Act II with his aria of new-found fulfillment, “De' miei bollenti spiriti”. Pirgu’s voice is strong and vibrant, but his climactic high notes border on overreach. The young and impetuous Alfredo is easy to figure out and Pirgu works efficiently at the extreme ends of his emotional outbursts. It’s the central ground between the two characters that lacks substance – the heart of the classic story that should generate sympathy toward the doomed affair of a jaded courtesan suffering from tuberculosis and a starry-eyed young man with too much time on his hands.

Baritone Vladimir Stoyanov as Alfredo’s father, “Giorgio Germont” commanded everyone’s attention. His Act II aria, “Pura siccome un angelo” was delivered with authority and compassion. Stoyanov’s voice is warm and robust, his portrayal of a father concerned for the future happiness of both his children is noble and persuasive. His lyrical quality shines through in the latter part of the scene with, “Di Provenza il mar”, where he admonishes Alfredo to return to the peace of the family home. Stoyanov’s dramatic range is fully realized in the second scene as he berates Alfredo for his unabashed humiliation of Violetta. "A man who offends a woman, even in anger, merits nothing but scorn."

La Traviata is the ideal choice for this year’s Opera At the Ballpark happening July 5. The always excellent live-action camera work and state of the art sound projection will heighten the pleasures of this popular work by Giuseppi Verdi. The performance will be conducted by Giuseppe Finzi and features Ailyn Pérez (Violetta), Stephen Costello (Alfredo), Quinn Kelsey (Germont), and the always outstanding members of the SF Opera Chorus. Also, mark your calendars for the annual and best free party in San Francisco, Opera In the Park – Sunday, September 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm.
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