Glimmerglass Opera Festival 2019: La Traviata

La Traviata: Vibrant ‘Violetta’

Review by Ed Cloos

As seen August 10, 2019

Anyone who would read an opera review knows La Traviata, but there is a good chance the name Amanda Woodbury doesn't ring a bell. It is one I'll never forget after the all-around solid production of the Verdi classic at Glimmerglass.

The lead role of Violetta Valéry is a plum for a young soprano, but also daunting since most of the great divas of the past 165 years or so, including some every year in our time, have sung it. This isn't about them; it is about a brilliant young soprano who sang the familiar arias and duets with her own exquisite stamp. She gave every note its own character, subtly mixing trills, tremolo and just about everything a soprano can do. She slipped through the passaggios, (high to higher) with seeming ease despite the difficulties they pose for pronunciation.

Her performance wasn't just showpieces. To be convincing as the 23-year-old French courtesan who gives up the last chance for love in her brief life, an actress must be able to show strength in her character, not to be merely a subject for pity. No problem for Miss Woodbury.

The opera is based on a novel, and later play, by Alexandre Dumas fils, the son of the author of Count of Monte Cristo, Three Musketeers and others still popular, at least through films. But in the mid-19th century he was more popular than his father. The libretto, by Francesco Piave, is more or less a direct Italian translation from the French of Dumas.

The setting is the salon world of Parisian society. This provided the opportunity to showcase the developing strength of the Glimmerglass company in movement and dance. That's particularly appropriate in this opera since most of the music is based on dance themes, often the waltz—waltz in the stately French manner, not the speedy, complex Viennese form.

Dance scenes were thoroughly professional, thanks to the skills of many members of the Young Artists program.

Violetta is approached by Alfredo Germont, a young man who says he's been deeply in love with her for a year. At first, she pays little attention to this sincere, but naive admirer. For opera purposes, it is the beauty of his song of love that leads her to accept his advances, and soon to return his love.

The beautiful tenor of Kang Wang, a Chinese-born rising star, joined Violetta in an achingly sublime love duet few months later, they've left Paris for a quiet life in a cottage in the nearby countryside.

Their idyll falls apart when Alfredo learns from her maidservant that Violetta has gone to Paris to begin selling her possessions to pay their living expenses. Alfredo isn't so much self-absorbed not to realize somebody has to pay the bills; he’s just clueless.

Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont, takes advantage of his son’s absence to visit Violetta and plead for her to end all relationship with Alfredo to protect his young daughter's chance for marriage. Alfredo's relationship with a courtesan is a scandal in their country village. Violetta firmly resists his cruelly harsh demand, but the elder Germont softens his tone and the beauty of the appeal he sings begins to win her over. She agrees to leave and write a note saying she is going back to Baron Douphol, her former protector. Alfredo never questions it.

It takes a warm baritone to carry that off, and Adrian Timpau was up to the task. The Moldova-born Timpau is a Young Artists alumnus, but this was his first lead role with the company. To me, this pivotal song is a crucial element in the success of the whole production, and I've had opportunities to see it fail. Not this time.

Everything moves fast after that, and Violetta isn't reunited with the two men who both loved and cruelly hurt her. Her death scene has been staged in many ways, sometimes in an elegant bedroom (as a few years ago at Glimmerglass) and once even sitting in a chair. This production both begins and ends in what looks like a charity hospital.

Francesca Zambello directed a production that worked at all levels. Joseph Colaneri conducted, and also contributed an essay on the Violetta character in the program.

Photo credits copyright Karli Cadel.

Production Credits:

  • Joseph Colaneri, Conductor

  • Francesca Zambello, Director

  • Peter J. Davison, Set Designer

  • Jess Goldstein, Costume Designer

  • Mark McCullough, Lighting Designer

  • Parker Esse, Original Choreographer

  • Andrea Beasom, Choreography Remounted by

  • Samantha M. Wootten, Hair & Makeup Designer

  • Kelley Rourke, Projected Titles

Glimmerglass Opera Festival 2019: Ghosts of Versailles

Ghosts of Versailles: An Entertainment

Reviewed by Ed Cloos

As seen August 9, 2019

Ghosts of Versailles, commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in celebration of its 100th anniversary, was seven years late in its opening, December 19, 1991. It has been trying to find its footing ever since. It has a special opportunity to mature at Glimmerglass since its composer, John Corigliano, is this season's artist in residence. It still seems to be a work in progress.

Its initial seven-performance run sold out, and it had an all-star cast, as The Met always does, it hasn't found a solid place in the American opera repertoire. Corigliano calls it a grand opera buffa, a large comic opera. To me, it is an entertainment, and entertaining it is.

The setting is grimly serious enough: it is set in an afterlife community of the court of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, all put to death by the new invention, the guillotine, during the early part of the French Revolution known as The Terror. The story is built on the imagined love of the playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. We know him as the author of the two plays on which the great “Figaro” operas are based.

At first, I saw echoes of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which a mortal man is able, through his song, the enter the underworld to rescue his beloved wife who seems mysteriously to be ambivalent about the project. But, no, Beaumarchais is also a ghost. His life was contemporaneous with the Court, but his death was half a dozen years later. The core of the plot is that Beaumarchais is so madly in love with Marie that he is sure his powers (mostly ego?) can restore her to life at an earlier time, rescue her ahead of The Revolution, and change history.

She proves not interested in love or life, depressed over the circumstances of her beheading. Beaumarchais wins her over with a humorous opera, composed for the ghost audience, using the characters he created for his plays. The result is madcap comedy that has little to do with what the roles of the characters were in his plays. He seems to figure that Figaro, who is a lot like Beaumarchais himself, can do anything.

In this new, special-purpose opera, the characters soon depart from the script and pretty much undermine his intentions. He nevertheless succeeds in winning Marie's affection, and their hauntingly beautiful love duet provides a musical highlight. She decides against trying to change history, so their romance is forever confined to the world of the dead.

The production provided the opportunity for 30 members of the Young Artists program to appear, with their names in the program. One baritone, Jonathan Bryan, was strong in the lead role of Beaumarchais. The only guest artist was Ukraine-born soprano Yelena Dyachek as Marie Antoinette. She is herself young and certainly an artist, but she is a graduate of Young Artist programs in Houston and San Francisco, and a Met Opera National Auditions winner.

Jay Lesenger, unfamiliar to me, but the director of more than 200 productions, directed this one, and he will direct when it moves to Chateau Versailles Spectacles, co-producer with Glimmerglass. Joseph Colaneri provided his usual strong support from the pit.

Production photos copyright Karli Cadel and Connor Lange.

Production credits:

  • Joseph Colaneri, Conductor

  • Jay Lesenger, Director

  • James Noone, Set Designer

  • Nancy Leary, Costume Designer

  • Robert Wierzel, Lighting Designer

  • Eric Sean Fogel, Choreographer

  • Samantha M. Wooten, Hair & Makeup Designer

  • Kelley Rourke, Projected Titles