Last night's long awaited production of "La Traviata" concluded the 2012 Fall Fringe Festival with aplomb. Directors Nathan Troup and Judy Braha created a imaginative cross between Dumas' "La Dame aux Camelias," Gems' "Camille," and Verdi's "La Traviata" that pushed the central characters to explore new depths and blurred the boundaries between the three works. The characters of these three works become almost interchangeable as some of Dumas' characters found themselves, at times, drifting through Verdi's setting of this tragic story. Although there are many facets and interpretations to these characters that are brought out during this production, they all share in the same suffering.
On top of the additional scenes and readings from the play, the roles of Alfredo and Violetta from "La Traviata" are switched out every act. Although connecting the dots between multiple literary works and keeping track of three representations of the same character may seem like a daunting task, the scenes progressed very logically and the central characters were always well established, despite their constantly changing appearances.
The Parisian party scene of scene I of "La Traviata" was by no means lacking in joviality. Violetta, sung by Ruth Hartt, was a voluptuous and free-spirited hostess. Her flirty countenance was a stark contrast to the bashful Alfredo of Heejae Kim, who gaped in awe at Hartt's coy Violetta. Hartt's silvery tone filled the hall easily with arching phrases in Violetta's Act I aria, "A Forse Lui." Her animated and nimble rendition of the notoriously difficult cabaletta "Sempre Libera" was sung with impressive stamina and technical assurance. In her upper range, Hartt's voice possessed a metallic quality that was quite fitting for her cool, detached Violetta.
A scene between Marguerite and the Marquis from Gems' "Camille" displaced the corresponding scene in Verdi's "La Traviata" between Violetta and Giorgio Germont. This drama-packed scene definitely cast a darker shadow on the mood of the whole opera. Patrick Varner's callous, mocking take on the Marquis reduces the previously strong Marguerite to a helpless victim. The cruelty and brute force of the Marquis was a little shocking to the audience who are accustomed to a, perhaps, stern but never violent Germont. Gems' interpretation added very strong personalities to the mix, but at the cost of an insightful father-son scene as well as much of Germont's stage time.
The Act II couple was sung by Christopher MacRae and Celeste Fraser. Despite being two of the most sonorous voices of the evening, there was little energy between them. After Ramos' (Marguerite's) passionate tears and the raw emotion of Gems' Act II scene, MacRae and Fraser's more subdued emotions seemed all the more diminished. The Act II party seen also lacked its former life. The Gypsy Chorus, particularly, could have used a little flair, but the playful tune lacked cohesion and rhythmic pull. However, the warmth of Fraser's soaring tone and her ability to create tension with her voice alone quickly salvaged the scene, dramatically, and made her the vocal highlight of the night. During the Act II finale, her resonant voice gushed with such emotion, that one couldn't help but wish so much of Act II had not be cut.
By Act III there seems to have been a complete reversal between Alfredo and Violetta's character. The wily Violetta and mosdest Alfredo of Act I have transformed into a docile , soft-spoken Violetta, sung by Ji Eun Park, and a show-stoppingly passionate Alfredo, sung by Christopher Hutchinson. Park's initially delicate singing accurately depicted Violetta's physical and mental frailty, but she revealed a clean, well-tempered sound in her passionate duet with Alfredo, where some of Violetta's former strength is revived. Hutchinson's ardent voice was protective in its fullness. The chemistry between the two restored the urgency to the drama and rekindled the excitement for the tragic finale.
Interestinginly, the opear does not end with the haunting image of death. Violetta does not fall dead after her brief bout of strength as most are used to, but with Violetta reaching hopefully towards the warm light that floods the stage. The other side of the stage remains in shadow where the rest of the characters, including Armand (Alfredo's parallel from "Camille").
William Lumpkin, leading the Boston University Chamber Orchestra, upkept adequate tempos and did an admirable job of controlling the ensemble. Each singer (and actor) brought their own gleaming of their character's personality and mental state to the performance and made it an enlightening and truely unforgettable performance