FLORIDA GRAND OPERA (11-15-08)
By Lawrence Budmen
The protagonist Violetta Valery in Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata is one of the most taxing soprano roles in the entire operatic literature. A true Violetta must combine coloratura fireworks with rich lyrical intensity and dramatic power. The part requires the emotional projection of a great tragedienne – a real singing actress. Any production of La Traviata stands or falls on its Violetta. The 68th season of Florida Grand Opera opened with a new production of Verdi’s masterpiece featuring a star turn by Eglise Gutierrez, a former Miamian and magnetic Violetta.
A spiffy new production by the longtime FGO team of director Bliss Hebert and set and costume designer Allen Charles Klein brought Verdi’s adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ drama vividly to life. Presented as a flash back from the terminally ill courtesan’s deathbed, two splashy party scenes contrasted with the more intimate tableaux of the countryside and austere mise-en-scene of the heroine’s death. Hebert moved the drama swiftly without confusing sentiment with bathos.
Gutierrez, a graduate of Philadelphia’s prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts, has sung in major houses in Italy and South America and lists an upcoming debut at London’s Covent Garden among wide ranging future engagements. She proved a magnetic Violetta. Gutierrez is the complete artistic package – an actress of brooding fervor with a creamy soprano voice that rises to the stratosphere with ease. Beautifully gowned, she commanded the stage, deftly tracing the heroine’s journey from carefree courtesan to heartbreak and tragedy. Gutierrez dashed off the coloratura pyrotechnics of Sempre Libra with fearless agility. Her richly lyrical Addio del passsato soared with the Verdian passion of Callas or Tebaldi. Gutierrez’s despair and resignation in the scene with the elder Germont proved deeply moving. After great success in this role this past summer at the Cincinnati Opera, Gutierrez’s homecoming is a capital event. She will return to South Florida again on January 4, 2009 for a solo recital at Sunday Afternoons of Music. This supremely gifted soprano’s concert and opera appearances are not to be missed!
Stephen Costello was a virile Alfredo Germont. Deploying a ringing, irresistibly robust tenor voice, Costello telegraphed romantic ardor and vengeful anger in tones of beguiling sweetness. Here is a tenor with real squillo who can essay the most dulcet of pianissimos. With appearances in major productions at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Salzburg Festival and Berlin’s Deutsche Opera, this rising tenor is a real find!
In the baritone role of Giorgio Germont, Luis Ledesma was the production’s weak link. Lacking vocal authority, Ledesma’s vibrato laden voice, uncertain intonation and lackluster stage presence proved a major deficit in a signature role for such past stalwarts as Robert Merrill, Mario Sereni, Cornell MacNeil and Ettore Bastianini. Among a generally fine supporting cast, Julia Ebner’s lovely high soprano Annina and Carlos Monzon’s warm bass and compassionate dignity as Dr. Grenvil were standouts.
The new opera orchestra offered playing of impressive clarity and precision. Aldo Sisillo conducted with Italianate passion, sustaining dramatic tension and repose. The Preludes to Acts I and III were rapturously lyrical, masterfully shaped. Sisillo drew a fiery, fluid performance from his strong orchestral ensemble and the able chorus.
A colorful production, superb conducting and some fine singing made this Traviata a spirited opener for Florida Grand Opera. Above all, this production is a glittering showcase for Eglise Gutierrez, a terrific singer, hometown heroine and rising star!