Act I introduces Violetta and Alfredo and hopefully establishes some kind of spark between them. Instead, what we got from soprano Ekaterina Siurina and tenor Charles Castronovo seemed like an underwhelming encounter arranged through a dating website. (This lack of rapport was both surprising and ironic, as they are married in real life.)
Perhaps this was what director Arin Arbus was aiming for: a party-scene so carefree that nobody in it seems to care about anything, including their own feelings. Or perhaps conductor Marco Guidarini could have generated some excitement by pressing forward with his tempi.
Siurina has a pure and supple voice. But it’s not a fulsome or commanding voice, and she blended into the scene rather too well. Similarly, Castronovo is a fine singer, endowed with a lyrical voice well suited to his role. Yet in Act I there was a charming sameness to everything he sang. The result was an act that was pleasant – but merely pleasant.
Act II began in the same vein. But then Quinn Kelsey, as Germont, walked in and put some sizzle on the grill with his rich, authoritative baritone voice. A sudden, jolting sense of gravitas may have been just what Arbus intended at this moment, and this is what Kelsey delivered, with a musically and dramatically solid performance.
And then the chemistry happened: both Siurina and Castronovo seemed transformed by the impact of Kelsey’s presence. They rose to occasion to match the baritone’s energy and urgency. He somehow made them better: their connection was more connected, their passions were more passionate, and their high notes rang more ringingly.
From this point forward, this Traviata was more than so much lovely singing. Both the Orchestra and the Chorus seemed to amp up their energy, underscoring the story's drama. At the end of the opera, Violetta’s death was a poignant and compelling scene.
One more thing (as Colombo used to say): this Traviata is a co-production created by the COC, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Houston Grand Opera – and it’s a keeper. Set designer Riccardo Hernandez has created elegant, period-apt scenery that doesn’t force a director’s hand, and will stand up to repeated use. Costume designer Cait O’Connor’s creations are also beautiful, but her macabre Gypsies and monstrous skeletal creatures may take some getting used to.
© Colin Eatock 2015