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In Review > North America

La Traviata

Opera Maine

In REview Portland Traviata lg 1017
Maria Natale and Mackenzie Whitney, Violetta and Alfredo for Opera Maine
© Martha Mickles

JUST BEFORE ITS  twenty-third season began, PortOpera changed its name to the more clearly defined Opera Maine. Fortunately, its guiding talents have remained the same. Artistic director Dona D. Vaughn and principal conductor Stephen Lord succeeded in mounting a deeply satisfying La Traviata with strong singers and solid production values (seen July 28). The large, enthusiastic audience at the Merrill Auditorium certainly demonstrated its support of this accomplished company and the caliber of its performances.

Appearing as Violetta for the first time, Maria Natale met the role’s formidable vocal challenges and made a most appealing heroine. Graceful and lithe, she was especially effective in Acts II and III, as Violetta became more vulnerable and frail. Although she was not as convincing as a courtesan in Act I, Natale nevertheless handled the fireworks in “Sempre libera” with aplomb, and her powerful soprano easily filled the house. In intense moments, she showed a tendency to go sharp, but this was less evident in the later arias, particularly in “Addio del passato,” in which her unforced, supple sound supported her affecting portrayal of Violetta’s desperation. “Dite a la giovine” was also beautifully and movingly sung, as Natale joined in duet with Joo Won Kang, a most impressive Germont. Kang’s rich, resonant baritone complemented his portrayal of a man whose dignity and sense of propriety may be paramount, but who still understands what Violetta’s sacrifice has cost her and can ultimately grieve with Alfredo. Kang’s “Di Provenza il mar” was notable for his superb phrasing of the long legato lines. 

As Alfredo, young tenor Mackenzie Whitney made a handsome, appropriately naïve lover. He has a bright, warm tone, and his midrange has considerable power, but the top of his voice tends to be tight and constricts his emotional range in impassioned moments. His best singing was in the “Parigi, o cara” duet, blending well with Natale to convey the lyrical power of the lovers’ emotions. 

Strong supporting performances included Eliza Bonet as a sensitive and loyal Annina, Hidenori Inoue as an appropriately hot-headed Baron Douphol (with some excessive posturing)and Erma Mellinger as Flora, whose hostess duties included directing party guests to help transform her ballroom into a makeshift sickroom for the ailing Violetta. This handling of the set change was more than simply practical, since it allowed the quiet orchestral introduction to the final act to accompany the preparations for the inevitable tragic ending. 

The consistent involvement of the chorus was excellent throughout, a hallmark of Vaughn’s directorial choices, which always focus on the emotional relationships of the opera’s characters, whether principal players or chorus members. Opting to set the opera in the 1930s called for attractive, flattering costumes, designed by Millie Hiibel, which allowed for easy movement. Violetta’s costuming emphasized her sensuous and lithe physicality, ranging from slinky ballgowns as she is determined to keep the party going to a simple white nightgown as she succumbs to her illness. The scenery, provided by Opera Carolina, was designed by Lloyd Evans.

Stephen Lord’s conducting of his responsive orchestra and singers was exemplary, from the haunting intimations of the prelude to the dramatic force of the powerful closing chorus of Act II.  —Cornelia Iredell 

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