Review: Season Opening “Traviata” Displays Soprano Mane Galoyan’s Glorious Violetta – Santa Fe Opera, June 28, 2024

Santa Fe Opera’s new Louisa Muller production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” opened the Santa Fe Opera’s 2024 season. Presented on a rotating stage created by British designer Christopher Oram, Muller’s production conceived “La Traviata” as a “memory play” in which Violetta, faced with death, recalls the four most important times in her life.

These past memories correspond to the four scenes of the opera’s three acts: Act I (Violetta’s first meeting with Alfredo), Act II Scene 1 (VIoletta’s and Alfredo’s love affair in a country villa; disrupted by Violetta’s encounter with Alfredo’s father and her subsequent flight to Paris) Act II Scene 2 (Alfredo’s pursuit of Violetta to Paris challenging the Baron Douphol to a duel) and Act III (Violetta’s deathbed reconciliation with Alfredo).

Unlike most productions, Muller’s stage action begins as Maestro Corrado Rovaris, the conductor, leads the orchestra in the opera’s Prelude. The first orchestral theme relates to Violetta’s Act III death by the effects of consumption. As that theme is played, Galoyan’s dying Violetta wanders through places corresponding to each memory.

Mane Galoyan’s Violetta and Bekhzod Dravanov’s Alfredo Germont

At Prelude’s end, the lively party music introducing the first act begins. The party provides an opportunity for Violetta to be introduced to an admirer, Alfredo Germont (Uzbeki tenor Bekhzod Dravanov).

[Below: Mane Galoyan as VIoletta; edited image, based on a Curtis Brown photograph courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

A 2019 winner of Placido Domingo’s Operalia contest, Dravanov displayed a light lyric voice, which he enlisted for lead the party-goers in opera’s most famous drinking song Libiamo ne’ lieti calici.

Director Muller follows Verdi’s instructions that there be a room adjacent to the salon where the party is being held, where Violetta can retreat. The room adjoining the salon that designer Christopher Oram creates is a beautifully appointed bedroom. Alfredo joins her there, ardently singing one of Verdi’s greatest tenor arias, Un di felice, eterea.

[Below: Violetta (Mane Galoyan, left) is sufficiently intrigued by her new suitor, Alfredo (Bekhzod Dravanov right) to invite him into her bedroom; edited image, based on a Curtis Brown photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

The act closes with VIoletta’s double aria Ah, fors’e lui che anima and Sempre libera, each part an admission that Alfredo has stirred her heart. It is in this double aria that Galoyan demonstrates her ability to infuse meaning into Violetta’s every phrase of Verdi’s score. Galoyan’s entire performance was beautifully sung and sensitively acted.

Dravonov was a believable Alfredo, consumed by love for VIoletta in her country estate, then filled with rage when he believed her to have abandoned him for the well-to-do Baron Douphol.

[Below: Alfredo (Bekhzod Dravanov, left) shows his affection for Violetta (Mane Galoyan, right); edited image, based on a Curtis Brown photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Dravanov was vocally effective and dramatically affecting in the duet on Violetta’s deathbed, Parigi, o cara.

[Below: Alfredo (Bekhzod Davranov, left) and Violetta (Mane Galoyan, right), in the final moments of her life, sing of their hopes for their future together; edited image, based on a Curtis Brown photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

Alfredo Daza’s Giorgio Germont and Sejin Park’s Baron Douphol

Mexican baritone Alfredo Daza, who is scheduled one month later to perform the comic role of Doctor Dulcamara in the Santa Fe Opera production of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” assumed on very short notice the role of Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont.

The elder Germont can be a difficult figure for modern audiences, unbound by 19th century social conventions, to relate to. It is still possible to portray him as an ulltimately sympathetic character. Daza’s performance seemed like a “last minute save” as opposed to a carefully conceived, thoroughly rehearsed, portrait of one Verdi’s major baritone roles. His portrayal is likely to evolve in future perfromances.

[Below: Giorgio Germont (Alfredo Daza, left) explains to Violetta (Mane Galoyan, right), why she must break off relationships with his son forever; edited image, based on a Curtis Brown photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

I am aware of Daza’s vocal and dramatic successes, exemplified by his performances of Zurga [Review: Los Angeles Opera’s Beautifully Sung “Pearl Fishers” – October 15, 2017] and Diego Rivera [Review: Daniela Mack, San Francisco Opera Chorus Shine in “El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego”, San Francisco Opera, June 17, 2023].

The role of the Baron Douphol is smaller than the opera’s three principal roles, cited above, but is dramatically important. Alfredo believes that the baron had stolen Violetta from him, he unwisely challenges the baron to a fateful duel. South Korean baritone Sejin Park, a 2024 Santa Fe Opera Apprentice, performed the role with distinction.

[Below: Sejin Park as the Baron Douphol; edited image, based on a Curtis Brown photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

Kaylee Nichols’ Flora, Keith Klein’s Doctor Grenville, Eliza Sunshine’s Annina and Other Cast Members

The remaining smaller roles were also performed by 2024 Santa Fe Opera Apprentices. Ohio mezzo-soprano Kaylee Nichols was Flora Bervoix, Violetta’s friend and the host of the “third scene” party in which Alfredo and Violetta break up.

In the opera’s finale a sobering quintet is performed, in which Galoyan’s Violetta, Dravanov’s Alfredo and Daza’s Germont are joined by the maid Annina, performed by California soprano Eliza Sunshine and by Doctor Granville, sung by Kansas bass-baritone Keith Kline. The quintet, a traditional cut in earlier decades, was beautifully sung and dramatically absorbing.

Other apprentices in the cast were New York bass Drew Conner (Flora’s servant), New York bass-baritone Sam Dhobhaney (Marchese d’Obigny), Florida tenor Garrett Evers (Gastone), Pennsylvania bass-baritone Luke Hamish (a Messenger) and Texas tenor Ryan Bryce Johnson (Giuseppe).

Dancers in the third scene were Maryland’s Nicholas Sipes and New York’s Emily Cardea.

[Below: Emily Cardea (front, center) and Nicholas Sipes (right) dance; edited image, based on a Curtis Brown photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

Maestro Corrado Rovaris and the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra and Chorus

Italian Maestro Corrado Rovaris led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra and the Chorus of Apprentices (under Chorus Master Suzanne Sheston) in brilliant performance, with sprightly playing for the first and second act party scenes and affectionate support for Galoyan’s Violetta.

Director Louisa Muller’s Production

American-born Viennese director Louisa Muller has described Verdi’s most popular opera as a “memory play”. Violetta, faced with death, recalls the four most important times in her life – her first meeting with Alfredo; her encounter with Alfredo’s father, GIorgio Germont, leading to her abandonment of their lovers’ retreat; his pursuit of her in Paris and their breakup; and his return to her on her deathbed.

[Below: Director Louisa Muller; edited image of a publicity photograph from louisamuller.com]

The juxtaposition of the lively and brilliantly costumed first and second act parties with the intimacy of Violetta’s memories, superbly realized by Galoyan, made this a “Traviata” to be cherished.

[Below Flora Bervoix (Kaylee Nichols,left) enjoys the first act party; edited image, based on a Curtis Brown photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

Were I to be able to revise any part of the production, it would be to rethink the Bacchanal Chorus of the final scene, where the “merry carnival crowd” of Verdi’s libretto are singing in the street outside Violetta’s window. In Muller’s production, they enter Violetta’s bedroom, frightening her (to her maid Annina’s dismay), leaving just before Alfredo and his father arrive. If this innovation must be saved, then it should seem to be Violetta’s hallucination, to which Annina should not react.

[Below: A ‘merry carnival crowd” invades the bedroom of VIoletta (Mane Galoyan, against the wall, left); edited image, based on a Curtis Brown photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

This was my first opportunity to see an operatic production that had been conceptualized and created by Muller. Previously, I had known Muller’s work previouas Los Angeles Opera’s revival director for two of my favorite operatic productions by Ian Judge – Wagner’s “Tannhauser” [Review: An All-Star “Don Carlo” from Plácido Domingo and Friends – Los Angeles Opera, September 29, 2018] and Verdi’s “Don Carlo” [Streamed Performance Review: A Vocally Glorious “Tannhäuser” with Savage, Jakubiak, Meachem, Manotchkina, and Robinson – Los Angeles Opera, October 24, 2021].

Christopher Oram’s Scenic and Costume Design

Director Muller’s concepts for the production was realized by British designer Christopher Oram. His brilliantly appointed interior spaces organized on the revolving set and his dazzling costumes for principals and choristers were central to the production’s success.

[Below: Christopher Oram; edited image from youtube.com.]

I have been an admirer of Oram’s work with another colleague, director Michael Grandage, CBE, and have reviewed their work on operas by Mozart [Review: Boogie Nights at Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” – Houston Grand Opera, January 30, 2016] and Britten [Review: An Indomitable “Billy Budd”, San Francisco Opera, September 7, 2019]. (The most famous Grandage-Oram collaboration has been designing sets and costumes for the Broadway production of Disney’s “Frozen”.)

The opera ended with a sustained and well-deserved ovation for Galoyan.

Recommendation

I recommend the Santa Fe Opera’s attractive new Louisa Muller production of “La Traviata”, and especially, Mane Galoyan’s performance as Violetta, both to the veteran opera-goer and the person new to opera.