Sunday, April 30, 2017
La Traviata in Sacramento
Conductor: Jose Luis Gomez
Violetta Valéry: Lyric soprano Jennifer Black
Giorgio Germont: baritone Sol Jin
Alfredo Germont: tenor Yongzhao Yu
To finish the 2016-17 season of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera we were presented Verdi's La Traviata. We were worried about whether or not it would be staged or cut. I was pleased to see that the carnival music in the last scene was cut to just a few lines. Otherwise the score seemed virtually in tact.
There was no set except a single stuffed green chair, but the acting was played out in full in the small area in front of the orchestra. Since my seat is in the fifth row, I enjoyed this very much. It is wonderful to sit so close to the performers. I always say the best seat at an opera is on the stage.
We found that this was very successful thanks to the above named performers. Our conductor faced and conducted his players with great skill and familiarity with the score. He seemed never to look at the singers. They in turn never looked at him. See. I keep saying this is possible. One sings with the music. It felt like a fully realized performance. Minor characters were filled by members of the chorus who held book. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.
This opera belongs to Violetta and rises or falls with her. Our soprano Jennifer Black paced herself beautifully. It is a long and arduous role. Her phrasing was very beautiful and she died in style. That turned out to be the purpose of the green chair. She had a different gown for each scene.
We were lucky to hear Sol Jin, probably the only one ready for the big time. His voice and his gravitas were perfect for Giorgio Germont. He also provided the only small piece of comedy when Violetta sat on his hat.
Now is the place for some small comments. The current management of this group receives most of its advice from people who manage instrumental ensembles. Opera for them is just another concert. I continue my seat, but I was here for opera. They seem to spend more energy on pops concerts. This makes me sad.
I have decided to write a post script.
My professional career, such as it was, did not include repertoire from the bel canto, unless you count Maddalena in Rigoletto. I was what used to be called a low and slow. I sang in an era when Handel was still performed unornamented. However, my library does include the standard cadenza book. I learned Azucena but was probably not heavy enough for her.
I noticed that our soprano left out the cadenza and the high note. This is, however, Sacramento, and I was hesitant to make a fuss about it. I suppose the question at issue here is was it her fault because she wanted to save her energy for what remained of the role, or was a cadenza simply impossible when neither the conductor nor the singer are looking at one another.
So what do I actually think if I don't care about negative reactions? I found that our conductor had conducted opera (Mozart e.g.) but not necessarily bel canto. So perhaps his background is as weak as mine. What would normally happen in a concert performance is when singer and orchestra get to the cadenza, the conductor would turn toward the singer and follow her home. I reject absolutely that she should stare at him and in any way follow him. You cannot do the cadenza and accompanying high note to maximum effect without just letting it go. He should turn around and see what she is doing, although he may feel free to ignore her most of the rest of the time. In our performance I didn't notice that he ever turned around. It exists as a possibility that he was unaware there was something he was supposed to be doing.
I don't always want to point out every flaw in a performance. The problem I am having with the organization reviewed here is that no one currently associated with it knows anything at all about opera. When the staff included opera people, tv monitors were placed at useful locations around the house.