La Traviata

Opera Naples ‘Traviata’ at Ritz strong vocally

By Harriet Howard Heithaus of the Naples Daily News
Flora (Opera Naples Young Artist Clara Nieman) offers the party that will bring Alfredo and Violetta face to face.
Photo credit – by Ivan Seligman

If the first order of good opera is good music, Opera Naples got the Twitter feed. A cast of strong principals, a 46-piece orchestra, one of the best opera conductors around in Ramón Tebar and a chorus that never quits made “La Traviata” a musical feast.

Its sustenance rested heavily with Elizabeth Cabellero as Verdi’s doomed heroine, Violetta. She was clear and powerful, with a concise vibrato and full-production stamina Friday at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples. (Another performance is Sunday, March 20; see information box.) To add to it, Caballero has a skilled dramatic presence, believable and expressive, perfect for this role.

She didn’t go for the infamous high E in the acrobatic end of “Sempre Libra (Always free),” but we prefer her choice to a botched finale on what is a showstopping piece; even stars such as Anna Netrebko don’t do that pole vault regularly.

Her heart-sleeved suitor Alfredo (Andrej Dunaev), and his father, Giorgio (Nelson Martinez) are equally solid and strong of voice throughout the opera and their duet work is a model.

Their dramatic presence — guys, please get your arms out of recital position — ratchets up considerably in the second act, when Alfred fumes over his love’s party appearance with the baron and the senior Germont pushes his son to the floor. That happens after the equally chilling scene in which Alfredo furiously flings money at Violetta to clear his “debt” to her.

It’s a smart move on the part of Stage Director James Alexander, with uncredited costume director Judy Hushon, to put the Opera Naples Chorus in black-and-white tuxes. They function beautifully as both anonymous party guests and estate servants. The classic style of costuming gave the cast more room on the compact stage and more inspiration to work with evocative solid colors on the female principals.

We listened to a complaint that staging was slim. We loved the simplicity and symbolism of it, with the extra-wide fainting couch working with different color spreads flung over it to make it a couch, a bed, a party buffet and a gaming table. But then, we’ve seen “Lucia di Lammermoor” done as a mafia feud and necktied men crawl across a floor for a cocktail chanteuse in a Euro-trash “Turandot,” so our tastes have been pretty much pried open.

One quibble: The couch is so obviously a padded piece that it was a distraction anytime a character stood up on it, both because of the effort involved and the natural worry: Are they going to fall?

The screen backgrounds, which can be lame, came to life under Alexander’s use of huge symbols:

A long row of chandeliers that swayed as the tipsy party-goers appeared to bid farewell to Violetta.

Eye-filling fields of Parisian countryside and Provence, separated by a patriarchal tree

The supersized floral, blooming, fading and dying at selected intervals on its background screen

As always, the chorus delivers numbers that rank among the arias as most memorable moments; the “Libbiamos” drinking song won the shouts and applause it deserved. But we felt the finale of Act II was a blanket of gorgeous sound, with the entire group raining sumptuous sympathy on the downed Violetta: “Ah, how you suffer! But take heart; here, each of us suffers for your sorrow.” It deserved the same reaction.

We can’t say the same for the a cappella serenade of the masqueraders, done at a rapidly increasing tempo that already had opened too fast. Nor were we always taken with Alexander’s modernization of the libretto: “To sheathe my heart in constancy was all in vain” rings wistful, not bitter. The same can’t be said for “My heart stayed faithful for nothing!”

Still, we walked out of this one taking music with us, the way we like to leave an opera.

Post script: Probably the less said about the Pavilion at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort as a venue, the better. But here are aids for any event you attend there: Bring a sweater for the air conditioning but dress for summer, because they blessedly turn off the AC during the opera, lecture or show. And know that if you arrive early and drive past the traffic circle leading to the lobby, there’s a second lot with good parking.

Harriet Howard Heithaus covers the arts for the Daily News. If you know of an unusual arts story, contact Harriet at harriet.heithaus@naplesnews.com; 239-213-6091; on Twitter at NDN_HarrietHeit or Instagram: flascribe.

If you go

‘La Traviata’

What: Verdi’s famous opera presented by Opera Naples

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, March 20

Where: Pavilion at Ritz-Carlton Naples Golf Resort, 2600 Tiburon Drive, North Naples

Tickets: VIP with dinner, $250; VIP, $125; $80