BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
La Traviata is one of Verdi's most intimate operas, with its intense relationship between a Parisian courtesan — a high-class prostitute, essentially — and a dashing young nobleman who makes her feel love for the first time.
"Would a true love be a misfortune for me?'' Violetta muses after Alfredo has declared his love for her.
Sarasota Opera, under artistic director Victor de Renzi, is a Verdi house — the company is more than halfway through its epic commitment to stage all of the composer's operas — and it brings tremendous expertise to La Traviata, which opened Friday night. There were marvelously lusty choruses and excellent principal singers, especially baritone Marco Nistico as Alfredo's father, Germont. De Renzi conducted the Sarasota Orchestra, filling the pit with almost 60 players, and Martha Collins directed the handsome, traditional production.
However, for all the elements that were in place, the performance never quite jelled. It's undoubtedly unfair to complain about the physical appearance of an opera singer — who would be judged strictly by voice in a perfect world — but I had a hard time accepting the diminutive, girlish Lina Tetriani (formerly Tetruashvili) as a fully persuasive Violetta. A soprano from Tbilisi, Georgia, she made a striking impression as Magda in La Rondine with the company in 2008, but her debut as Verdi's consumptive prima donna fell short — literally, as she was dwarfed by the towering, luxurious set from New Orleans Opera.
Tetriani is an intriguing singer, with an exotically dark cast to her voice. She landed on Violetta's freakishly high notes with accuracy and color, and when her voice dropped into a lower register, it was thrilling. And it was impressive to hear such a small woman project her voice through the wall of sound of Verdi's thick orchestration without any problem.
Still, with her waiflike demeanor, Tetriani seemed more like someone play-acting as the worldly courtesan rather than truly inhabiting the role. She came across as wooden in her interaction with other characters, blossoming most brilliantly when alone onstage, as in Violetta's famous aria to the high life, Sempre libera.
Fortunately, Edgar Ernesto Ramirez, the tenor playing Alfredo, is also short, and his first-act duet with Violetta was well done, though perhaps a touch rushed, missing the expressive rubato that the score allows. When Germont came to break up his son's misalliance with the wayward woman, Ramirez's body language was telling, as he looked like a petulant little boy in the patriarch's presence.
Nistico was a near-definitive Germont, with his distinguished gray hair and goatee, stern but not without a sense of humanity. His Act 2 scene in the country with Violetta was sensitively rendered, as he negotiated with the courtesan to let his son go.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.