Monday, July 16, 2018
Stage

Stellar leading performances elevate La Traviata from good to special

TAMPA — The curtain opens on elegant attire, ballroom dancing, a chandelier and soft lighting. It is clear from that moment that Opera Tampa's La Traviata is going to be a serious affair, one well-suited to the larger Morsani Hall at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Two singers linger behind the others to set the tone for one of opera's most enduring hits since its debut in Italy in 1853, a showcase of Giuseppe Verdi's talents as both plumber and poet, whose workspace is the soul. A smitten Alfredo Germont confesses to the courtesan Violetta that the love he's feeling is "the pulse of the universe, the whole universe."

Though impressed, Violetta demurs. "You should find somebody else," she says. "Then you wouldn't find it hard to forget me." The simplicity of the plot, based on a novel by Alexandre Dumas, leaves luxurious spaces for productions to fill. At the top, Violetta has told her guests she is not feeling well. We know she's not going to get better, and he's not going to fall out of love. We can relax, glance just enough at the translated Italian on supertitles to stay abreast of what's going on, and enjoy some thrilling music.

This production is surely what organizers of the Florida Opera Festival, three productions at the Straz Center (Don Giovanni, the final show, runs April 8 and 10 in Morsani Hall) had in mind. Nothing against Cosi Fan Tutte, which played in February with some of the same performers, and maybe the lighter Mozart opera suits more cerebral tastes. But with La Traviata, it is as if everyone from maestro Daniel Lipton to the stage hands has tried to elevate the most glorious story line, by the most celebrated composer, in the fullest possible way.

The story plays out with its attendant voices. Standout performances include mezzo-soprano Sarah Nordin as Flora, Violetta's friend, and Jean Francois Lapointe as baritone Giorgio Germont, Alfredo's tormented father. There are no weak links in the cast.

This is the most lavish set and lighting display so far, with three changes after the opening scene. The orchestra, conducted by Lipton, complements the most tender arias indispensably, particularly as written for the strings during the rapid decline of Violetta's health to tuberculosis, each of her tenuous movements gnawing a bit more into that piece of fishing line by which she holds to life. It is a lovely scene, the stage lit by candles on all sides. Costumes and makeup hit all the right tones to set up the story of a woman whose flaws are indistinguishable from her strengths, surrounded by characters who are unusually human in their responsiveness and empathy. Some inventive staging by director Frank Van Laecke, including serenades by Alfredo from the balcony and another vital touch in the final act I won't spoil here, advance the thesis that Opera Tampa has gone all out in a very focused way.

None of the foregoing would matter if the two principals did not meet the call. Don't worry.

Cecilia Violetta Lopez, is simply superb as Violetta. Her voice has a wide range of color, with brighter and darker tones, all lovely and inviting of hours of listening. Lopez also embodies the role fully, something that can not always be said of opera singers. And Cody Austin as Alfredo is singing a part he might have been born to play. Austin, in a recent interview, said he believes Verdi captures the strengths of his voice in a way other composers do not. That would seem obvious from this performance.

La Traviata is everything opera should be. This production aims high at fulfilling Verdi's score, and comes pretty darn close.

Don't forget your handkerchief.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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