As opera fans, it's easy to forget how many productions of Verdi's La Traviata one has seen in a lifetime. (Like Puccini's La Boheme, Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, or Rossini's Barber of Seville, it is one of the most performed operas--). However, we had the pleasure of taking in a really remarkable production by Milwaukee's Florentine Opera last Sunday. The part of Violetta was sung with marvelous power and skill by Jan Grissom, who easily filled the house with her notes, yet did not ever seem to be straining. She was ably supported by Raul Hernandez as one of the best Alfredos I've seen. (Alfredo seems to attract either wimpy tenors or wimpy performances. We usually wind up rooting for Violetta to dump 'Fredo and either stay with the Baron or run off with his father, Old Germont, instead.) Not in this case. We had a strong passionate Alfredo, of whom it could be believed both that Violetta might love him, and that he might best the Baron in a duel. Hernandez also sung with strength and confidence, including such feats as holding his note while running upstairs to make an exit. Guido Le Bron, as Alfredo's father, Georgio Germont, did not deliver the most heart-wrenching rendition of "Di Provencale," I've ever heard (that honor belongs to the redoubtable Sherrill Milnes), but I was very impressed with his ensemble in the songs with Violetta in Scene Two, which became true balanced duets, instead of call-and-response dominated by the soprano, which is the more usual case. We were glad to see local favorite Kitt Reuter-Foss, who gave tipsy animation to the role of Flora.
Maestro Joseph Resigno led the orchestra in a reading that complemented the singers perfectly and did not intrude. The real star of this production was the stage director, Bernard Uzan, who gave a very daring interpretation. The party scenes were very naturalistic and active. It was well done to have the normal women of the chorus fill the gypsy costumes at Flora's party instead of the usual corps de ballet, which made the Spanish dance performed by Milwaukee prima ballerina Yumelia Garcia all the more beautiful and striking. There were other wonderful touches also. It is usual to stage the end of Act 2 with women fussing over the fainting Violetta while Alfredo either slinks out or stands aside shunned. In this production, a spotlit Violetta exits, proudly, and alone, last glimpse of her fixed visage afforded by the strategically placed mirror up center. The Third and final act begins with Violetta sitting up in a chair because she is unable to sleep and coughing is easier in that position-instead of in the bed as she frequently is. Instead of trailing away pathetically a her death, the final note was hit solidly and then cut as she fell to the stage, which was quite daring. Standing ovations are quite common from the Milwaukee audience, which tends to be a bit "easy", but this one was well deserved, and we joined in wholeheartedly.