Sunday, June 21, 2009

Netrebko in Traviata at SFO

San Francisco Opera
La Traviata

Giuseppe Verdi
Fri Jun 19 2009 8 pm

Violetta Valéry: Anna Netrebko
Alfredo Germont: Charles Castronovo
Giorgio Germont: Dwayne Croft
Flora: Leann Sandel-Pantaleo
Gastone: Andrew Bidlack
Baron Douphol: Dale Travis
Marquis D’Obigny: Austin Kness
Grenvil: Kenneth Kellogg
Annina: Renée Tatum
Giuseppe: Dale Tracy
Messenger: Bojan Knezevic
Flora’s Servant: William Pickersgill
Matador: Jekyns Pelaez

Conductor: Donald Runnicles
Director and Designer: Marta Domingo

The San Francisco Opera seems to be into time-shifting this summer. While Porgy & Bess went from the 1920s to the 1950s, this Traviata went from the 1850s to the 1920s. The updated period for Traviata does not make sense to me. It moves the opera too far from the rigid social conditions of the original story. It does, however, give the cast an opportunity to wear shiny, attractive clothing amid fancy props.

I thought the sets looked sparse. I couldn't tell whether the first scene of Act II is supposed to take place inside or outside. Flora's party opened with the incongruous sight of the chorus doing the Charleston to a swaying, all-black jazz band while a disco ball revolved overhead. The Act III location is completely abstract, consisting solely of Violetta's round bed in front of a nighttime sky.

Of course the masses were here for Netrebko. When she made her leggy entrance fom a Rolls Royce, there was a small smattering of applause. Her voice is marvelous & complex, with wonderfully throaty low notes & penetrating high notes. I like her sound, but somehow she fell short of moving me. I felt her Violetta lacked the requisite frailty.

Charles Castronovo's voice is not big, but it is pretty, & he sings pleasingly. He is also quite handsome, so Violetta & Alfredo make a very good-looking pair. I liked Dwayne Croft's warm voice & sympathetic characterization as Germont. His was my favorite performance of the evening. Runnicles got cheers every time he stepped into the pit, & he took surprisingly unrushed tempos throughout. I liked the substantial rather than ethereal string sound during the overture.

The audience was in a distinctly good mood, definitely having an enjoyable evening out. Near the end of Act I Netrebko managed to kick one of her shoes up into the drapes over the bed, where it got stuck, which of course raised a chuckle. Strangely, the audience also laughed in Act III when the doctor whispers to Annina that Violetta has only hours to live.

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