Heartfelt and intimate: Manitoba Opera's La Traviata Angel Blue (Violetta) and Adam Luther (Alfredo) in La traviata, Manitoba Opera, 2018. Photo: R. Tinker.

Heartfelt and intimate: Manitoba Opera's La Traviata

Neil Weisensel

Manitoba Opera’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata has everything you need for a gratifying night of opera theatre: great voices, an excellent orchestra, and a beautiful set. Add to that the excitement of seeing live performers of the highest calibre, with all the variables that that can bring, and you have the recipe for a great night out.

Let’s start with the voices. Angel Blue, who has recently sung at the Met in New York and will be taking this role of Violetta to Covent Garden, was the vocal standout of this production. Her easy free tone, the tremendous versatility and agility in her voice, coupled with a compelling stage presence made her performance a top-notch affair. Her leading man, Adam Luther (like Ms. Blue, making his Manitoba Opera premiere) as Violetta’s lover Alfredo was unfortunately in apparent vocal distress in the first act. After the intermission, an announcement that he was ill, but gamely willing to perform in a reduced vocal capacity, had a fascinating and unintended effect on the opera as a whole.

Angel Blue as Violetta in La traviata, Manitoba Opera, 2018. Photo: R. Tinker.

It’s obvious that Mr. Luther possesses a tremendously beautiful instrument, even if he was struggling. What I found really interesting and different, was that in the second act, and even more in his final duet with Violetta, Ms. Blue had to bring her powerful voice down in volume to his, to match the fact that he was crooning, not full-out blasting as you usually have to do to be heard over an orchestra. As a result, their tender final scene, as she lay dying, was amazingly touching and intimate. Somehow, conductor Tyrone Paterson was able to match the smaller sound coming from the stage with some mightily sensitive playing from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

The Manitoba Opera chorus has never sounded finer, in my opinion. Kudos to longtime Chorus Master Tadeusz Biernacki, celebrating 35 years leading this fine group. Their singing was so precise, so wonderfully full and exuberant, and you could tell that they were having a lot of fun in the party scenes.

All voices, it seemed to me, were helped by the beautiful new set, a collaboration between opera companies in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, and Montreal. The set is visually spectacular, with a giant staircase and two levels to frame all the action that happens onstage with style. I found the set also served as an acoustic shell, helping the unamplified voices of the principal singers and chorus to be heard over an entire orchestra. Again, Maestro Paterson did a great job with the balance overall between orchestra and singers, and the orchestra played their hearts out. I was thinking - I know they don’t have a lot of rehearsal time to put together so much difficult material, but once it’s all ready to go, it must be fun for the musicians to play such great music!

La traviata, Manitoba Opera, 2018. Photo: R. Tinker.

I had a few concerns regarding decisions the director, Alain Gauthier, made over the course of the show. There was one stormy instrumental interlude, the music loaded with meaning, but oddly the stage was empty during the whole section. What was it supposed to mean? It seemed like either something went wrong onstage, or the director decided to just ignore that interlude. If it was the latter, the interlude should have been cut. Also there were some questionable costuming decisions, stodgy staging, and more “park and bark” that we are accustomed to seeing in the 21st century. Despite these minor quibbles, however, I have no problem recommending wholeheartedly this production. Kudos to Larry Desrochers and the entire team at Manitoba Opera for bringing us such world-class talents!

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