'La Traviata' Opens At Shubert In New Staging

Posted: November 13, 1989

The Pennsylvania Opera Theater's vigorously staged new production of Verdi's La Traviata, which opened at the Shubert Theater Saturday evening, had strong singing in all roles. But the performance was dominated, as it ought to be, by the principal characters.

Soprano Lauren Flanigan, a dramatically spectacular Donna Anna in last season's Don Giovanni, maintained a similar standard as Violetta and brought some memorable singing to the role - fiery, lyrical or dexterous as needed.

Indeed, she somewhat overshadowed the fine tenor White Eagle, who played opposite her as Alfredo and whose appearance had been much anticipated. His is a fine, ringing tenor, almost too heavy for the part, as perhaps was indicated by a certain lack of agility in his Act One drinking song. The brindisi is, however, almost the first thing Alfredo has to sing, so let's put it down to the warm-up blues. Certainly he offered nothing to complain of in the remainder of the role, and his acting was superb - easily the equal of Flanigan's histrionics.

With his ponytail, he makes of the character a young, bohemian intellectual - which is quite fitting, for the story is set in the same early-19th-century Paris where the young composer Hector Berlioz made such a fuss over Harriett Smithson and Camille Moke. Flanigan's Violetta, for her part, is a particularly giddy young thing, at least at first: She sings "Ah fors' e lui" sprawled on a chair, and takes a hefty belt of wine before launching into "Sempre libera."

Against these two, Peter Lightfoot, as Alfredo's father, had the thankless task of portraying an emotionally wooden and fundamentally unsympathetic pillar of respectability. The role stands or falls on the singing, and Lightfoot's strong, rounded baritone certainly showed no signs of the illness

from which he has just recovered.

His scene with Violetta stalled a bit - but then, it always does. The balance of the opera, especially the two party scenes, swirled with life and color, expressed in superb blocking and excellent lighting. Realistic costumes and furniture (including mounds of Violetta's favorite camellias in the opening scene) were counterposed against abstract, vaguely symbolic backgrounds - for example, a set of huge, reflective shards resembling a broken mirror, which appeared at beginning and end. Particularly effective use was made of quasi-cinematic slow-motion effects and scrims, especially during the two orchestral preludes.

The Act Two party (with the Gypsies) was made unusually dissolute and sinister, with Flora dressed like something out of The Story of O (well, almost) and the Baron coming on like a Mafia don. The singers in these and the other minor roles provided more than adequate support for the fine principals, and maintained an excellent acting standard as well. Music director Barbara Silverstein's English translation of the libretto was stylish and accurate.

The remaining performances of La Traviata will be presented on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.


Composed by Giuseppe Verdi; directed by Barbara Silverstein and Victoria Bussert; conducted by Silverstein; settings and costumes by Russ Borski; lighting by Mary Jo Dondlinger. Presented by Pennsylvania Opera Theater at the Shubert Theater. Ends Saturday.

Violetta Valery - Lauren Flanigan

Alfredo Germont - White Eagle

Giorgio Germont - Peter Lightfoot

Baron Douphol - Todd Thomas

Annina - Laura Mashburn

Flora Bervoix - Tonya Currier

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