WNO’s La Traviata Waltzes Away

A Review of The Oct. 6th Premier at the Kennedy Center

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Popular courtesan Violetta (soprano Venera Gimadieva) finds love with the handsome Alfredo (tenor Joshua Guerrero) in WNO's La traviata 2018 production_credit Scott Suchman

Al piacere m’affido, ed io soglio con tal farmaco i mali sopir, sings Violetta, opening Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi’s La Traviata. Pleasure is the best medicine for her ills declares this consumptive courtesan to a room full of partying admirers. Little does she know that Alfredo, her future paramour, is standing nearby awaiting an introduction.

Can a fallen woman find true love? Will she sacrifice it on the altar of family? Will she reconcile with her lover before her illness takes its tragic course? These questions lie at the heart of this romantic tragedy that has fascinated opera goers since its 19th Century premier.

The Washington National Opera’s (WNO) sumptuous production of this classic masterpiece sets Violetta’s travails in 19th Century Paris. The tight direction of Francesca Zambello keeps plot moving at a nearly modern pace. The elegant set designed by Peter Davison and gorgeous costumes by Jess Goldstein are a delight. All this comes together in the famous party scene, when gypsy dancers dazzle the audience with their antics.

Russian soprano Vernera Gimadieva makes her Washington debut as Violetta, having sung this role for London’s Royal Opera. Gimadieva is a gorgeous, eye-riveting presence on stage. She both possesses a voice that does full justice to this difficult part and acting skills that brought the role to life, particularly in the opera’s final scene which when performed by the less talented often verges on parody.

American tenor Joshua Guerrero played Violetta’s lover, Alfredo. Guerrero’s tall, imposing figure is the epitome of the heroic tenor. And, his voice lives up to his visage, seducing the audience from the moment he sings of how Violetta’s eyes have pierced his heart in his first aria.

However, it is Lucas Meachem, the baritone who plays Alfredo’s father, who really steals the show. Be it his heartfelt aria that convinces Violetta to abandon her lover to preserve family honor; or his explosive commendation of his son’s jealousy, Meachem’s deep, resonate voice and exquisite phrasing held the audience rapt.

Gimadieva, Guerrero and Meachem are assisted by a talented chorus, which frames their singing without overwhelming its power. Conductor Renato Palumbo, who DC audiences last saw in the WNO’s 2007 production of Verdi’s Macbeth, effectively exploits the rhythms that lie at the heart of Verdi’s score, keeping audience’s ears engaged.

Sumptuous, romantic and compelling, the WNO’s production of La Traviata is not to be missed. It is on stage until Oct. 21. For tickets, visit http://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/OTOSA#tickets

WNO’s season continues with the company premiere of Kevin Puts’s and Mark Campbell’s Silent Night (November 10-25, 2018); Tchaikovsky’s epic Eugene Onegin (March 9-29, 2019); Gounod’s devilishly entertaining Faust (March 16-30, 2019); and Puccini’s towering masterpiece Tosca (May 11-25, 2019). The season also features a revival of WNO’s hit holiday family opera The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me (December 14-16, 2018). The WNO will premiere new works during the American Opera Initiative Festival (January 11-13, 2019) and a special Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist performance A Concert of Comic Masterpieces (May 24, 2019).