The pandemic has strangled most cultural events for more than two years and if we are not at the end of the tunnel, we are at least seeing some lights. One of those lights is the return of the Canadian Opera Company with a revival of its 2015 production of La Traviata. It was a superb production then and it is a superb production now. The audience greeted it with a standing ovation as recognition of its quality and perhaps gratitude for the return to normality however partial.
Arin Arbus’s production is intelligent, well-sung, vibrant, colourful and conservative in the best sense of the word. That means it is far cry from productions that bank on directorial flights of fancy like Willy Decker’s staging that featured a single set with a huge clock dominating the set but a traditional approach is something that we do not want to do without.
In any production of this chestnut, our attention is always drawn to the lyric soprano singing to role of Violetta, the tragic heroine who finds love and death in breathtaking succession. This time the role is taken by Amina Edris, a relative newcomer that has sung in many regional opera houses and may well be ready to turn out to be a major star.
She makes her debut appearance with the COC and she displayed vocal beauty combined with sustained emotional pulse. There were several mispronounced words but her phrasing and gorgeous tone made for a marvelous performance.
Matthew Polenzani is one of the major tenors who has sung the role of Alfredo Germont numerous times to great acclaim. The performance that I saw may not have been his best. He displayed his vocal splendour in arias like “Oh mio rimorso!” where he promises to wash away the infamy and disgrace of his conduct. He sings with vocal flourish and hits the high notes with unerring precision. In other places, however, I thought his heart was not in what he delivered. At 54, his voice may be getting darker or he may be past his prime.
Baritone Simone Piazzola has the juicy role of Giorgio Germont. He sings the marvelous “Di provenza il mar il suol” and and “Il suol chi dal cor ti cancello” with feeling and resonance and even though he is an authoritarian patriarch who is more interested in his daughter’s marriage than in his son’s happiness we do not despise him. He emerges as a sympathetic figure in the end when he realizes and repents his transgressions. Most of that occurs, I think, because of the power of those arias and, in this case, Piazzola’s splendid delivery of them.
Set Designer Riccardo Hernandez has created sets that are economical and very sound. The first act has a colorful dinner table in the middle with a curved wall at the back that is unadorned. There are what look like stacking chars at the back and a large mirror is the only adornment hanging on the side. The second set represents the country home of Violetta and Alfredo and it has two large panels of rural scenes and a piece of furniture. The party room at Flora’s house is brightly lit in red giving it a festive atmosphere. The final scene has a bed and the mirror of the first act has fallen down. Hernandez makes use of shadows that show people in relief and it is very effective.
The costumes by Cait O’Connor are gorgeous. Marcus Doshi’s lighting transforms the set from the bare wall of the first act, to the country house in the second and the big party at Flora’s place with amazing effectiveness.
It is worth emphasizing the excellence of Arbus’s conception and achievement which together with Johannes Debus’ conducting a brilliant performance by the COC Orchestra, brings a wonderful night at the opera.
La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi opened on April 23 and and will be performed a total of seven times until May 20, 2022, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel: 416-363-6671. www.coc.ca