There’s no better affirmation of the power of a particular opera score than to see it performed in concert: or maybe that should be “hear” rather than “see”. The only impact a designer has on such a performance is the cut of a tuxedo or the style of an evening gown. The evening depends on the singing, the musicianship and the music itself.
Tonight I attended the second of three presentations of La Traviata being undertaken by Bill Shookhoff’s company Opera by Request, a testimony not just to its popularity (given the good sized turnout) but its dramatic power as well.
Traviata has always felt modern to me in its bourgeois concerns, unlike Rigoletto and Il Trovatore, the other masterpieces Verdi composed in the 1850s, with their royal personages and unlikely romantic plots. Traviata is one of the earliest operas with such a contemporary focus, believable scenario (a courtesan dying of consumption) and has remained among the most popular.
A concert presentation is a mixed blessing. Yes the voices are front and centre, especially in an intimate setting, but the singers must conjure the illusion without sets or costumes, without champagne or an actual deathbed. In Opera by Request’s presentation we notice the biggest discrepancy in the two party scenes, whereas the more intimate scenes between two principals were far more successful.
Traviata sinks or swims with the soprano portraying Violetta, a role requiring the consummate singing actor, while—at least for me—the others only matter in their impact upon Violetta and her short life.
Jennifer Carter achieved the most important of the requirements of any Violetta. It has been said that over the course of the work, we require several different singers to encompass the drama and corresponding vocal writing Verdi entrusts to her. From the moment she appeared, we believed Carter as a courtesan and bon vivant living under the shadow of her illness. I was especially persuaded by Carter’s confrontation with the elder Germont in Act II and her final act duet with Alfredo & eventual death.
Paul Williamson as Alfredo was for me the vocal star of the evening, with a lovely voice, masterful top and exquisite musicianship, never straying off pitch. Wayne Line’s Giorgio Germont transcended the usual stiff conservative; as a result, we saw a confrontation between two loving individuals in disagreement (Line’s Germont and Carter’s Violetta), giving their scene the weight of real tragedy.
Shookhoff was the usual note-perfect accompanist.
Opera By Request will offer their third and final performance Wednesday April 13th at the New St James Presbyterian Church, London Ontario.