Weston Hurt

‘La Traviata’: fallen woman rises again

Sterling singing and strong direction distinguish Portland Opera's latest production of Verdi's tragic perennial

by BRUCE BROWNE

It is 1840s Paris and the population is booming. Just outside the gaslight’s glow, the new urban lady of the evening offers her talents. She is a courtesan and her life will become a fascination in the literary, visual and performing arts.

“La Traviata” translates as “The Fallen Woman,” hardly royalty or swashbuckler. Giuseppe Verdi put her center stage, and opera goers continue to enjoy her life of glorious highs and tragic lows.

Verdi fast-tracked Alexander Dumas’s La Dame aux Camélias, taking the 1848 novel/1852 stage play to an operatic premiere in March of 1853. It was not well received. Fortunately for Verdi, however, his hugely successful Il Trovatore (which premiered two months earlier) provided a cushion. Verdi was able to regroup, recast the anti-heroine Violetta and the now-beloved opera was off and running by 1855.

Dumas’ novel, with the fictional “lady of the camellias” Marguerite, was based on his own love affair with Marie Duplessis (alias), a respected courtesan in the Paris society of the early 1840s. The legitimizing – the humanizing – of this courtesan has spawned dozens of “Camille” movies (e.g. Theda Bera, 1917, and Greta Garbo, 1936) and ballets. Julia Roberts launched her career as a “Pretty Woman” of New York. Dumas wrote a good story and both it and its protagonist have survived and thrived.

Aurelia Florian as Violetta in Portland Opera’s production of Verdi’s ‘La Traviata.’ Photo: Cory Weaver

Verdi’s (and librettist Piave’s) operatic version of the drama is expertly sculpted. The emotional highs and lows, the hypocrisy, the social/political landscape, the tension and ecstasy of young love… it’s all there – along with Verdi’s marvelous music, of course – and last Sunday afternoon, Portland Opera Association staged and performed all aspects of the epic work to full effect. Scenery and costumes were scintillating; orchestra and chorus were joined at the hip, and the solo roles, fervently and beautifully sung. Every solo singer was in fabulous voice; it was as balanced a total cast as I have ever heard in a Portland Opera performance.

Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian, in the role of Violetta, sings with a flexible, vibrant voice, capable of a variety of nuances in dynamics and color. After a few fluttery vocal moments in the first Act, she settled into the persona of Violetta. She was captivating in the entire aria “È Strano” (It is strange) and the succeeding “dialog” with Alfredo, her potential lover, by taking on a Scarlett O’Hara-like naiveté. Such a lovable coquette.

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Portland Opera review: Lucia di Lammermoor

Portland Opera's production of Donizetti's opera is a bloody good time

 

Elizabeth Futral in Portland Opera's Lucia di Lammermoor. Photo: Ken Howard

Elizabeth Futral in Portland Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Photo: Ken Howard

by ANGELA ALLEN

Scottish moors and forbidding towers have ways of inspiring violence and insanity. Even Lady MacBeth’s blood-stained dress pales against Lucia’s blood-soaked wedding gown in Portland Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor, which opened Friday at Keller Auditorium for a two-weekend run. 

Opera is about excess, at least this sort of tragic singer-centric opera where a cold-hearted, insecure brother like Enrico (baritone Weston Hurt) wants to break up true lovers—his family enemy, Edgardo (tenor Scott Ramsay), and his sister, Lucia (Elizabeth Futral). If you can’t go over the top with this production, you will be left in the Keller’s lobby, drinking. So go with it, and go with abandon. Speaking of lifeblood, this Lucia, prolific Gaetano Donizetti’s most-performed opera, brings crucial bold new blood to PO, including leads Futral (Lucia), Ramsay (Edgardo), stage director Doug Scholz-Carlson, set designer Christine Jones and lighting “recreationist” Scott Bolman.

This production milks to the hilt blood and the dynamics of broken, betrayed and mis-timed love. When wired-up, thoroughly charged soprano Futral emerges in the third act—blood-smeared head to toe, eyes glassy, a distraught nutty smile—to sing Lucia’s extraordinary 15-minute “mad-scene” aria, the opera reaches its peak of piling it on.

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