Arts & Culture

Strong singing, conducting lift Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’

Giuseppe Verdi’s perennially popular opera, “La Traviata,” needs full-throated lead singers and confident, sensitive conducting to succeed. N.C. Opera’s production Friday night had those requirements fully covered in the company’s most satisfying grand opera staging to date.

The story of Violetta, a courtesan who falls in love with highborn gentleman Alfredo, has tragic consequences because of mid-19th century mores and Violetta’s late-stage tuberculosis. Violetta demands a soprano with vocal agility, powerful dramatic qualities and sheer stamina, being center stage for most of the opera.

Jacqueline Echols built on a memorable Musetta in last season’s “La Bohème” with this first-ever Violetta, notable in its thoughtfully realized, extremely assured portrayal. She ably negotiated the challenges of Violetta’s first act showpiece and demonstrated a range of emotions in the second act scene with Alfredo’s father, Germont, who shames Violetta into leaving his son. But Echols came into her own as the dying Violetta in act three, movingly draining her voice of color and energy. With this strong start, Echols could easily become a major interpreter of the role.

Despite Violetta’s dominance, Alfredo and Germont must be equally strong for their duets and formidable arias. Mario Chang applied his powerful, exciting tenor to Alfredo’s ardor and anger, his vocal force filling the auditorium. Later, he revealed a fine ability to sing tenderly in the opera’s finale. As Germont, baritone Joo Won Kang used his powerful, rounded tone to characterize Germont’s bullying authority but also warmly projected Germont’s lyrical, reflective moments.

Binding the production together was conductor Timothy Myers’ understanding of the work’s moods and effects, while being attentive to each singer’s way with the music. The chorus contributed exhilarating precision, and the smaller roles were adequately handled. Nashville Opera’s striking sets and costumes added professional flair to the proceedings.

Director Marc Astafan’s stage pictures and chorus movements were satisfying but the leads were often indelicately sprawling or awkwardly grappling, the men particularly wooden in their moves.

But nothing dimmed the pleasure of experiencing grand opera at such a high level, boding well for the company’s future productions.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

If you go

What: Verdi’s “La Traviata,” presented by N.C. Opera

Where: Memorial Auditorium, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $25-$85 (student rush $12)

Info: 919-792-3853 or ncopera.org

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