The final opera to be conducted by Maestro Nicola Luisotti during his nine-season tenure as Music Director of the San Francisco Opera is Verdi’s “La Traviata”.
The opera, presented in British Director John Copley’s classic 1987 production, was the occasion for the San Francisco Opera debuts of Aurelia Florian, the Violetta; Atalla Ayan, the Alfredo; and Artur Rucinski, the Elder Germont.
Aurelia Florian’s Violetta
The performance introduced Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian to an appreciative War Memorial Opera House audience. Florian demonstrated that she had all the vocal requisites for the role – a secure legato, brilliant coloratura technique, and, when needed, a voice of spinto power.
Florian enlisted her acting skill to create a portrait of a woman who is plagued by insecurities and self-doubts, even as she achieved a degree of economic security in Parisian society.
[Below: Soprano Aurelia Florian as Violetta; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Copley’s staging (as revived by Texas stage director Shawna Lucey) credibly framed Florian’s expressive singing and acting – her plaintive Ah, fors è lui sung in a party space which all other guests have left, and her joyous aria Sempre libera sung on the porch of opened French doors.
Florian is captivating in the final act as her Violetta, from memory, recites to herself the contents of Alfredo’s letter, each word obviously burned into her soul. Violetta’s final aria Addio del passato is delivered by Florian with special poignancy.
[Below: VIoletta (Aurelia Florian) clings to life hoping she lives long enough to reunited with her lover; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Atalla Ayan’s Alfredo Germont
Brazilian tenor Atalla Ayan impressed as Alfredo, the youth whom Violetta truly loved.
Reunited with Maestro Luisotti with whom he appeared at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Ayan was an effective singer-actor conveying ardent love in the first and last acts and outraged jealousy in the middle scenes.
[Below: Atalla Ayan as Alfredo; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Ayan’s rich lyric tenor gave a luster to the first act Brindisi and to Un di, felice eterea, his famous duet with Florian’s Violetta (and to a superbly sung Parigi, o cara his last act duet with Florian).
[Below: Alfredo (Atalla Ayan, center) and then Violetta (Aurelia FLorian, right) sing a Brindisi as they lead a champagne toast; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Artur Rucinski’s Giorgio Germont and Other Cast Members
Polish baritone Artur Rucinski was a stylish Giorgio Germont.
[Below: Artur Rucinski as the Elder Germont; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
If Rucinski’s lyric baritone was a shade lighter in weight than the dramatic baritones often cast in this role, his performance was authoritative, particularly in the scene in which the Elder Germont denounces his son’s outrageous insult of Violetta.
[Below: Giorgio Germont (Artur Rucinski, center) denounces his son, Alfredo (Atalla Ayan, seated right center) for his insult to Violetta (Aurelia Florian, in black dress, left center); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Maestro Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus
From the first notes of the famous prelude, Maestro Nicola Luisotti’s conducting was luminous.
[Below: Maestro Nicola Luisotti; edited image, based on a publicity photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
The San Francisco Opera Orchestra gave an excellent performance of one of the greatest operas of the Italian repertory.
September has been a busy month for the San Francisco Opera Chorus (with much to do in Puccini’s “Turandot” as well as “Traviata”). The chorus, under the direction of Ian Robertson, performed with the world class brilliance that one expects of them.
Iowa mezzo-soprano Renèe Rapier is Flora Bevoix. New Zealand tenor Amitai Pati is Gastone. Michigan baritone Andrew C. Manea is the Marquis d’Obigny.
Minnesota bass Anthony Reed and New Zealand soprano Amina Edris are respectively Doctor Grenvil and VIoletta’s maid Annina, both of whom take part in the final quintet (in the past routinely cut, but now expected in 21st century performances) with Florian’s Violetta, Ayan’s Alfredo and Rucinski’s Germont.
Florida bass-baritone Philip Skinner, the Baron Douphol, whose San Francisco Opera debut took place 32 years ago, has the most San Francisco Opera seniority of the cast’s members.
San Francisco opera choristers Christopher Jackson, Torlef Borsting and Bojan Kenezevic were respectively Giuseppe, Flora’s Servant and A Messenger.
The Flamenco Dance Troupe
One of the expectations of a major opera company’s staging of “Traviata” is attention to the extended matador-theme dances incorporated into the opera’s third act (in this production Act II, Scene II).
The production’s lavish costumes and skillful performances by Flamenco soloists, starring Cuban dancer Lorena Feljoo. San Francisco Opera Dance ensemble artists Blance Hampton and Bryan Ketron repeat their solo roles.
[Below: Lorena Feljoo, Bryan Ketron and Blance Hampton are the principal flamenco dancers in the Chorus of Spanish Matadors; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
John Copley’s Production and John Conklin’s Set Designs
British director John Copley first created a production for the San Francisco Opera in Summer 1982 (Handel’s “Julius Caesar” with sets by John Pascoe). He is associated with 18 productions of 17 different operas presented by the San Francisco Opera over 30 separate seasons and received the San Francisco Opera medal in 2010.
[Below: Director John Copley; edited image, based on a Liz Kaye photograph from Columbia Artists Managements, Inc.]
The John Copley “Traviata” production, with the attractive sets created by Connecticut designer John Conklin, has maintained its elegance over the three decades that it has served as the San Francisco Opera’s “Traviata”.
[Below: Violetta’s country estate in the second act of “La Traviata”; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
I recommend this cast and production of “La Traviata”, both for the veteran opera goer and persons new to opera, and recommend it especially to those who wish to experience international class opera in the beautiful surroundings of the War Memorial Opera House.