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La Traviata at the Fort Worth Opera.

The only technical glitch in Fort Worth Opera’s opening-night production of La Traviata at Bass Performance Hall was the overhead translating screen. It didn’t light up until well into the show.

Other than that, everything was pretty much as it should have been.

Originally designed by Desmond Heeley for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, this striking production brings another era to life by featuring enormous chandeliers, luxurious furnishings, and splendid costumes. (Dance lovers may remember Heeley’s remarkable Sleeping Beauty that Texas Ballet Theater revived last year.) Chad R. Jung’s atmospheric lighting added greatly to the overall effect.

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The opera is based on the 1848 novel La Dame aux Camelias, written by Alexander Dumas fils and adapted by him for the stage in 1852. Verdi lost no time turning it into an opera by 1853. In six years it became the most popular story in Europe: the tale of the untimely death of a beautiful young woman who went astray (as “la traviata” politely translates).

The cast of principals was new to Fort Worth, including Australian soprano Rachelle Durkin as Violetta, the titular Parisian courtesan. A tall blonde beauty, Durkin looked great in the role –– and she would have been greater had she sounded a little better. Durkin navigated the opera’s unusual combination of coloratura and dramatic challenges with apparent ease, but at full throttle her voice had a hard edge. At first I thought it was opening-night nerves, but it continued throughout the performance. At medium volume, the sound was pleasant, and her pianissimo singing during the death scene was ravishing. At full voice, though, she was just this side of shrill.

Tenor Patrick O’Halloran, as her lover Alfredo, sang with warmth and feeling, and he had no difficulty with the high notes. He looked an ardent, if naïve, lover as they ran off to her country house. However, he seemed a little stiff moving about the stage.

As Alfredo’s father, the glorious-sounding bass-baritone Nicholas Pallesen was a joy to hear. But he also seemed a little uncomfortable walking the stage. Maybe an additional rehearsal would have helped. He wasn’t helped in his second-act scene with Violetta, when he pleads with her to leave his son for the good of his family. Pallesen was wearing a snug blue military uniform with a chest full of medals over his portly frame and carrying a baton. His and Violetta’s farewell embrace looked somewhat awkward.

Director David Gately returned to stage the opera. While it’s difficult to imagine anything surpassing his brilliant revival of Rossini’s Cinderella a few years back, his work here was commendable. I found the party sequences a little rowdy, especially the first act, with its wildly drunken guests, but he gave everyone in the chorus something to do. No matter where you looked, something was going on, and the chorus sounded terrific: bright, robust, and full of life.

My only real quibble with the performance was Violetta’s death scene. Here she rose from her bed in a last burst of energy and fell dead in a heap on the floor instead of in Alfredo’s arms, only a few steps away. It took a lot of the emotion from this special moment, when she is finally with the man she loves. She should have been allowed to feel his closeness as she passed on.

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, accompanying in the pit under the baton of Joe Illick, was one of the brightest stars of the evening. The playing was clean, balanced, and wonderfully animated when called for. The strings were extraordinary in the hushed prelude that begins the opera, a barely audible whisper of sound that floated through the auditorium.

 

[box_info]La Traviata
2pm Sun and 7:30pm Sat, May 9, at Bass Performance Hall, 555 Commerce St., FW.
$17-195. 877 396 7372.[/box_info]

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