Capitol City Opera, in its most ambitious production to date, presented Verdi’s La Traviata this past weekend. Your friends at newoutpost attended the final matinee performance on Sunday March 25, and though the overall impression of the performance was uneven, we can report that there were moments of lovely music making to be heard throughout the afternoon.
Assessing the success of performances at fringe companies such as Capitol City Opera can prove a peculiar task. They tend to feature barebones productions of full operas without the budgetary means of the larger companies, and generally feature young artists at the early stages of their professions who have not yet matured into their techniques. The sets and costumes are minimal, and the orchestra is comprised of a piano and a string quintet. There is also an air of “you don’t know what you’re going to get” that permeates the air, and how an audience member will react to it will depend on their level of initiation. Ultimately, Capitol City Opera provides opportunities for young singers which would seldom be available at the larger regional stages, and that provisional element alone makes it a valuable asset to the operatic scene in our city. That said, for an opera with such history and pedigree as Verdi’s La Traviata there are standards, and we would be remiss to gloss over a proper critique of the proceedings and rush to celebrate the affair as a simple fait accompli. The company and artists involved certainly deserve more than that, and who are we to deny them?
From the outset, we must consider the work of the orchestral players. While we tend to be purists in many respect, your friends at newoutpost are partial to orchestral reductions. Conducted by Michael Giel and led by Catherine Giel at the piano, the string quintet comprised of Kevin Chaney, Jonathan Wright, Andrew Kang (violins), Noah Johnson (cello) and Jarod Boles (bass) were successful in distilling the essence of the full orchestral score within their means. The production values, though predictably meager, were tastefully arranged by director Michael Nutter. The women were particularly well dressed and coiffed by costume designer Pamela Cole and wig designer George Deavours, and the sets by Christopher M. Black, which added up to a gaming table, some chairs, a fainting couch and a luxurious statue featured in the second act succeeded in framing the action with through a mildly exuberant minimalism. Their combined efforts provided a functional setting to showcase Capitol City Opera’s cast, which was tasked to project the work across the footlights.
The company’s Violetta, soprano Julia Metry, is a good-looking young lady at the beginning of her career who she has a lot of work ahead of her. Her voice is of light color and weight, with a cool, penetrating soprano which at best can be wielded brilliant. More importantly, its tone, while not terribly individual, projects a hint of vulnerability which can be used to great advantage in this and other operatic roles. These qualities served her best during the opera’s third act. An encyclopedic role like Violetta will tend to show the gaps in the singer’s technical arsenal, and to our ears, this was no exception. For starters, Ms. Metry’s breathing was not properly mapped out, leaving her unable to accomplish the majority of her scenes without noticeable strain. A general deficiency in her handling of the text (a feel for the weight of the word can guide a phrase) tended to exacerbate this. In addition, while the soprano’s middle and top registers are reasonably well placed, the bridge separating them has not been thoroughly resolved. The resulting patches of sour breaks, coupled with a tendency to inconsistently stray off pitch and a general lack of a musical compass in the bel canto style, limited her vocal interpretation of Verdi’s eponymous heroine to an unsatisfactory approximation.
For those who blinked, we realize that the charge of “lack of a musical compass” may sound particularly harsh, and we’re aware of the impact of our statement. But that is what happens when the heart, ear, method and mind are not all congealed into a whole to express the sentiments contained in this brilliant score. Those who cannot fully achieve them should at least mean to, and whether by design or happenstance, there were moments of real pathos in Ms. Metry’s impersonation. Violetta’s grand scena which brings down the curtain in act one was capped by an erratic and aggressive reading of the celebrated cabaletta “Sempre libera”, which produced, all at once, conflicting feelings of anger, sympathy and admiration at the sheer audacity of this young artist. She tried it. In act two, when Violetta must leave Alfredo and tries unsuccessfully disguise her conflict, resulting in the famous outburst “Amami Alfredo,” Ms. Metry did not suddenly morph a spinto, but projected a need to match the sentiment by resorting to an almost desperate array of snarls, digs into her limited chest tones, rushing through her lines and doing her best to muster the climax. Vocal grand guignol aside, she projected that she cared for the musical gesture, and that ultimately touched the heart. Later, in the third act, she decried her plight through a “Ah! Gran Dio! Morir si giovane” so forced and lachrymose, she seemed offended enough to force us to sacrifice our second tissue of the afternoon. Isolated highlights aside, we hope Ms. Metry will apply due diligence to correct the listed items of concern and further polish her considerable talents to better serve her upcoming assignments.
The case of the Alfredo, tenor Justin Stolz, was on the other side of the spectrum. His was the most professionally put together voice to be heard, and not surprisingly he’s the artist with the glitziest resume. We have heard him before in the role of der steuermann in the recent Atlanta Opera production of Wagner’s Der Fliegende Hollander. After that performance, which struck as functional but not terribly inspired, we felt that his attractive tenor could be on the brink of a breakthrough with the right coaching. This performance of Alfredo underlines our original observation, and while Mr. Stolz proves he may be able to fulfill the bulk of the vocalism required to sing the role, he offers little beyond that. His voice is evenly placed and his production somewhat wide. He can project the same vocal color throughout his scale with little compromise. He can husband his resources to give proper shape to his act two cavatina “De’ miei bollenti spiriti” and still navigate the hurdles of his often cut cabaletta “Oh mio rimorso”. This greater grasp on the technical basics of his instrument set him apart from the rest of his colleagues, and the stage was set for Mr. Stolz to grace the proceedings with his unique take on one of the great Verdian parts available for an artist of his fach. That he seemingly refused to take this extra step and beyond a well sung assumption was a disappointment, but as we were treated to the unstable offerings of his colleagues, his firm and reliable performance was certainly well received. The final impression was that of having experienced the work of an accomplished vocalist, yet to date, we still have no idea what moves and inspires him.
The Giorgio Germont of Jadrian Tarver embodied the lesser artistic points of the production. He shared with his leading colleagues a square handling of the Italian text, but little of their commitment or vocal acumen. His clear light baritone was overparted, the upper parts of his range an inescapable tonal dead spot. He spent the majority of his stage time connecting with the conductor, so that opportunities to foster chemistry with his onstage colleagues were kept at a minimum. Mr. Tarver did look dashing in his costume, and it is very possible that his projected disinterest in the whole thing was merely his interpretation of the role. We’ve been wrong before. The assorted cast of comprimarios did much to lift things up, headed by the seasoned, professional Giuseppe of tenor William Green, who reprises the part which he debuted back in 2013 on the stage of the Atlanta Opera. His entrance was followed well by the commissioner of bass Albert Clark. Tenor Jose Gabrielle Caballero, hilariously listed as Jose Carreras in the program (he’s gonna need a nickname) was an engaging Gastone who led the ensemble in a saucy and ethnically appropriate zapateo during Flora’s party. Baritone Michael Lindsay was unintentionally hilarious as the Marchese d’Obigny, while his baritone counterpart Ivan Segovia took full advantage of every line provided for the Barone Douphol. Baritone Jarius Cliett was a sympathetic Grenvil, while the Flora of Amanda Perera and the Annina of Michaele Postell scored fine vocal and histrionic performances. All of these fine young artists doubled as members of the chorus, making the traditionally muted offstage largo al quadrupede quite the vivid affair.
Capitol City Opera likes to stay busy, and in addition to its educational outreach program, it will produce highlights of Verdi’s Rigoletto as part of their Dinner and Diva program at Petite Violette on April 17th. In July, they will follow with a Leonard Bernstein celebration at the Highpoint Episcopal Community Church. To keep up with their events, please follow the company’s website at http://www.ccityopera.org/home