La traviata, Chicago

The title role was sung by Marina Rebeka in her
company debut; Joseph Calleja repeated his success as Alfredo Germont; the
father of Alfredo, Giorgio Germont, was performed by baritone Quinn Kelsey. The
Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus were conducted by Massimo Zanetti.

The first and final acts of Verdi’s opera were united in the visual
depiction of Violetta Valery’s domain, while the atmosphere attendant on both
depictions showed a considerable difference. During the overture to the opera
the audience was able to witness, through a film-like curtain suspended before
the stage, the protagonist Violetta helped by her maid as she stepped into a
ball-gown and train. As the strings played their achingly wistful melody during
the overture Violetta donned both feathers and wings to prepare herself further
for the festive party in her home. This element of belle Èpoque
artifice continued throughout the production lending a credible tone to the
celebratory scenes in the later acts.

From her first lines of invitation, “Flora, amici …” and “Miei cari,
sedete …” [“Flora, my friends …” and “My dear friends, please be
seated”], Ms. Rebeka had full command of Violetta’s role. She sings with a
comfortable approach to the character’s shifting vocal lines, uses decoration
judiciously, and remains involved in the stage action as hostess at her salon.
At Alfredo Germont’s introduction Mr. Calleja assumes a tentative yet
searching approach, so that the audience is able to sense his vivid interest
not only in the setting but also in its hostess. Calleja’s admirable line and
embellishments in the “Brindisi” [“Libiamo” (“Drink”)] are models
of bel canto Verdian singing. Individual notes are projected clearly,
just as the intensity and color of Calleja’s decorations emphasize an
involvement progressing beyond infatuation. When he responds to Violetta’s
questions concerning this passionate interest, Calleja introduces his
self-defense with a suspenseful diminuendo before describing his
unexpected love already for the duration of a year. With a seamless flow of
legato expression Calleja outlines his character’s emotional
struggle as summarized finally with a tear-laden effect on “Croce e
delizia” [“Cross and ecstasy”]. Rebeka’s response is equally moving
while she pronounces “un cosi eroico amore” [“such an heroic love”]
with a rising line of decoration. During their rapid exchange of plans to meet
again when the flower has withered, both principals sang “domani”
[“tomorrow”] in piano intimacy. As a means to depicting their
growing, shared love, this hushed glance into the characters’ feeling
enhanced for the audience the resolve expressed in the duet as concluded.

During an introspective solo, when left alone to ponder the changes
affecting her current state, Violetta doubts at first the possibility of
authentic love. In the first part of her aria, “Ah, fors’Ë lui” [“Ah,
perhaps he is the one”], Rebeka uses her skills to sing and modulate from
soft to loud as though involved in an emphatic conversation with her heart. The
incomprehensible, or “misterioso,” is sung by Rebeka softly and in awe,
whereas her voice blooms in volume under the weight of the “croce.” During
the ensuing “Sempre libera” [“Forever free”] the rapid runs were
executed cleanly and forte notes were taken as pure, lyrical cries of
emotion. Rebeka succeeds at integrating this showpiece aria smoothly into the
drama while at the same time leaving a strong impression of her bel
approach. Toward the close of the act Calleja’s repeated offstage
appeals of “Croce” extended the emotional web for both protagonists even

At the start of Act Two Alfredo, while alone, muses on his happiness in the
soliloquy “Lunge da lei per me” [“When she is far away”]. Calleja’s
breath control and embellishments on “il passato” and “Io vivo quasi in
ciel” [“the past” and “I seem to live in heaven”] underline his
dream-like state before the rude awakening of Violetta’s financial sacrifice,
about which he learns unexpectedly from Annina. In his aria of response, “Oh
mio rimorso! Oh, infamia!” [“Oh remorse! Oh infamy!”], Alfredo is indeed
jolted into recognizing his position. Calleja performs this aria with true
emotional vigor and takes the repeat with the effect of emphasizing his
resolve. Act Two of La traviata belongs, of course, just as much to
Giorgio Germont, the father of Alfredo. Mr. Kelsey demonstrates a solid command
of this role, his exciting baritone drawing on resonant shades of nuance
especially during his introductory scene with Violetta. When making an appeal
to his son’s lover Kelsey includes individual decoration to enhance the
spirit of his request. His sense of rubato was effective in
“genitor” [“father”] just as was the embellishment with which he sang
“L’angiol consolatore” [“Consoling angel”]. As if in response to this
moving portrayal of paternal need, Rebeka’s Violetta sang “Dite alla
giovane” [“Tell your daughter”] with a decidedly slow tempo, so that each
word was pronounced in fulfillment of her proposed actions. Both singers were
then united in a rising line on “sacrifizio” as Violetta subsequently
promised to leave Alfredo.

The following scene of Act Two showed Kelsey just as much to advantage. His
performance of “Di Provenza il mar” [“From Provence … the sea”],
addressed to a disconsolate Alfredo, was noteworthy for its disciplined
approach to phrasing. The aria was performed in its uncut form, so that the
audience was privileged to hear a polished performance of a baritone staple
which is so often trimmed in other productions. Toward the close of this scene
the orchestra, perhaps out of sympathy with the anguish expressed between
father and son, played its accompaniment too loudly. In the final part of Act
Two, at the salon of Flora, the costumed dancers and additional performers fit
well into the overall setting of the party. After the intimate duet between
Alfredo and Violetta – leading to anger, misunderstanding, and his public
denunciation – Germont pËre returns and participates in a final
ensemble. Here Kelsey’s superb legato could be traced throughout the group, while Rebeka performed her part with
searing top notes as she lay on her side. Calleja’s lines “rimorso io
n’ho” [“I am sick with remorse”], with equally notable projection,
remained the dominant impression at the close of the ensemble.

Act Three is staged at first through the same curtain as at the start of Act
One, yet now Violetta lies ill and weak as attended by Annina. After Dr.
Grenvil hints discretely that Violetta has only several hours to live, the
maidservant is sent off to perform errands. When left alone Violetta sings
“Addio, del passato” [“Farewell … of the past”], which Rebeka
performed with multiple high notes shading to diminuendo. Her vision
of “La tomba ai mortali” [“The tomb for us mortals”], as expressed in
this performance, was clearly visible to the protagonist despite a letter
announcing the imminent arrival of Alfredo. Although he arrives shortly before
Violetta succumbs, their final duet, “Parigi, o cara” [“From Paris,
dear”] remains ironically also a vision. The tragedy of her death renders
this final lyrical happiness, with Calleja’s leading lines answered
touchingly by Rebeka’s sustained responses, a poignant conclusion to this
excellent new production of Verdi’s masterpiece.

Salvatore Calomino

image_description=Marina Rebeka as Violetta, Act 1. [Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography]
product_title=La traviata, Chicago
product_by=A review by Salvatore Calomino
product_id=Above: Marina Rebeka as Violetta, Act 1. [Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography]