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Subject: The Regina Opera Presents a Thrilling La Traviata
From: Judy Pantano <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Judy Pantano <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 1 Dec 2017 12:15:17 -0500

text/plain (148 lines)

The Regina Opera Presents a Thrilling La Traviata
A review by Nino Pantano

On the afternoon of Saturday, November 18th, in its 48th season, the Regina Opera 
presented a beautiful La Traviata. This opera has long been a favorite of mine dating back to 
the early 1950's when I received an RCA LP as a 21st birthday gift. The principals were the 
idolized soprano Licia Albanese as Violetta, popular American tenor Jan Peerce as Alfredo 
and beloved Brooklyn baritone Robert Merrill as Germont and conducted by the iconic Arturo 
Toscanini and featured the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The opera was a gift to audiences by 
the legendary composer Giuseppe Verdi! In many ways it was a tribute to his second wife 
(soprano) Giuseppina Strepponi, who to many, was the inspiration for the opera. 

La Traviata (The Fallen Woman) premiered in Venice, Italy in March 1853 at La Fenice 
Theatre and was based on the play by Alexander Dumas fils. La Dame aux Camelias with a 
libretto by Francesco Maria Piave was a failure. The soprano, Fanny Salvini-Donatelli was too 
fat to be a consumptive and the audience was befuddled at its contemporary look. Verdi did 
some rewriting and got another soprano, and the opera became a great audience favorite 
and has remained one, world-wide, ever since. Note that composer Giuseppe Verdi also 
composed Rigoletto and Il Trovatore in the same time period. The great 1936 film Camille, 
starring Robert Taylor and Greta Garbo, is based on the same story and La Traviata is 
utilized in the popular film Pretty Woman with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.

La Traviata was the first full opera by the Regina Opera in 1971 and many thought of the 
recent death of Marie Cantoni who founded the company so long ago. This opera is a fitting 
tribute to her love of opera and the Regina Opera remains a true and eternal monument to 
her blessed memory.

The ever elegant Maestro Gregory Ortega made his entrance, the musicians readied 
themselves for his baton, the houselights dimmed and the magic began.

The beautiful Prelude with its sound of strings, grips one right from the start. The Maestro 
and the musicians have set the mood; the curtain lifts and the gaiety of the party prevails.

Violetta Valéry was portrayed by soprano Christina Rohm, whose vocal gifts were a constant 
source of pleasure and filled the hall with full and generous sound. Her sublime singing of "È 
strano... Ah, fors' é lui” moved the heart, and her full throated singing of "Sempre libera" 
literally tore down the house. She did not hit the stratospheric high e-flat at the end of the 
aria, but hit one high enough to thrill with the expansiveness and strength of her 
instrument. Ms. Rohm's scenes with Germont were touching. Ms. Rohm’s interaction with 
Germont in their scene that begins with "Pura siccome un angelo" was sung with such 
feeling, as was "Ah! dite alla giovine," that you cannot forget her heartache. Catholic priest 
Father Owen Lee once said on a Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast "Violetta was Una 
Santa"- she was truly a saint. Her reaction to Alfredo's terrible mistreatment to her at 
Flora's party melted the heart.

The final act with "Addio del passato" and "Ah! gran Dio! Morir sì giovine," was like 
witnessing the execution of an innocent person. Her "Parigi o cara" with her grief - stricken 
Alfredo, was sung with tenderness and compassion. The finale with "Prendi, quest' è l' 
immagine" with Violetta, Alfredo, Germont, Annina (Violetta’s maid) and Dr. Grenvil was 
sudden and shattering. Christina Rohm was for me and for the audience, one of the most 
vital Violetta's ever. Her performance is now inscribed in the minds and hearts of all who 
were lucky enough to witness such glory! Giuseppe Verdi must have been there and rejoiced 
in the perfection of this very unforgettable performance. 

I had the privilege of thanking Christina Rohm, this wonderful artist and singer, for all of her 
previous superb performances, as well as for this powerful emotion-filled Violetta.

Alfredo Germont was sung by Thomas Massey whose soaring lyrical tenor and boyish charm 
made him a vital and vibrant addition to this exceptional performance. His singing of 
"Libiamo" with principals and chorus at the beginning of the first act was exuberant and 
stood out. Massey's robust singing of "De'meie bollenti spiriti" at the beginning of the 
second act was among the very best I can recall, and his clarion and vibrant powerful tenor 
negotiated the myriad paths of the aria beautifully. Massey's rage and heartache in the 
gambling scene made one want to console him. His throwing money at Violetta in the 
gambling scene never made him the fool, only the fooled. His angst was shown in the power 
of his voice and his humiliation by his father denouncing him, and also made him the victim 
of the bourgeois ego. Massey's beautiful singing in his duets with Violetta "Un dì felice" in 
the first act and "Parigi o cara" in the last were indicative of his high hopes soon to be 
dashed by cruel fate. His remorse at the finale became our remorse. 

Baritone Scott Lefurgy was an excellent Germont Père. His warm and expansive baritone 
was utilized to perfection. Lefurgy’s voice is not an overly large voice but he knows how to 
project. His beautiful singing of "Di Provenza il mar, il suol" was among the highlights of the 
performance. Lefurgy's singing in the second act with Violetta was moving but never 
hypocritical. His emotions were perhaps a bit self-serving regarding "family honor" but his 
affection for Violetta was sincere, especially his "Piangi, Piangi" and his being the 
responsible one for her death was among the sadder aspects of this tale. Yes, Father Owen, 
Violetta was far more than a courtesan; she WAS a Saint! (Una Santa)

Baritone Samuel Bowen portrayed Baron Douphol. He was at his best in challenging Alfredo 
to a duel at the end of the second act. His indignation was justifiable. Kudos to the Regina 
for making the Baron's duel challenge moment a visible one. His useful and warm baritone 
and dignified appearance was well served. 

Kristin Behrmann was Flora. Her warm mezzo was pleasing, her affection for Violetta 
touching, her fabulous parties rivaled Ethel Merman as Perle Mesta in Call me Madame. (No 
pun intended) 

The more minor roles were securely played by Danny Oakden as Marquis d'Obigny; Rick 
Agster as Dr. Grenvil with a warm basso voice and persona; vibrant soprano Angela Aida 
Carducci as Annina, Violetta's loving and sympathetic maid; Justin Randolph was Gastone, 
Viscount Letorières; Thomas Geib was Giuseppe a servant; and veteran comprimario Wayne 
Olsen, an elegant first rate commissioner. 

The dancers at the party scene were the excellent and graceful with Wendy Chu as the 
gypsy and Kelly Vaghenas as the boastful impassioned matador. Both were colorful and 
exciting attractions in the party scene.

The ensemble was glamorous: stunning Shelly Barkan as Gastone's girl; Thomas Geib (a 
“moving man”); chorister Catherine Greco beguiled and amusing as a fortune teller; Tareva 
Moore (Gaston's girl); Wayne Olsen (Violetta's Butler) Raffaele Rosato (a “moving man”) - 
all vital, vibrant and colorful! 

The chorus sang with exuberance and sympathy. The orchestra of 35 plus superb musicians 
were led by Maestro Gregory Ortega, whose genius gave us a well balanced and inspired 
interpretation. The familiar Prelude and Interlude were fresh and familiar - like old friends 
and good wine. The violins were haunting thanks to Concertmaster Christopher Joyal. 
Violinist Diana Barkan was outstanding and her husband Dimitri Barkan was the excellent 
oboist. Richard Paratley, principal flutist, was also the Michaelangelo-ish set painter.

The costumes by Marcia C. Kresge were brilliant and colorful. The sets were sheer 
perfection. Flora's party was elegant and extravagant with paintings, large garden window 
and great intimacy as well. Violetta's party in the first act had a lovely "Libiamo" with all the 
color and fun synonymous with such settings.

Lauren Bremen's lighting design added to the mood swings, the marvelous supertitles by 
Linda Cantoni contributed greatly by their sophistication and explanation. Graphic design 
was by the multi-talented Wayne Olsen.

The stage direction by Linda Lehr is always unique and fulfilling. The camera is on Violetta 
but the bouquet also includes strong glimpses of the despair of Alfredo and Germont. The 
entire production is praiseworthy and we were thankful for it. 

I am thankful that my guests including family and friends were given this precious gift of 
Violetta's life and demise. The great music of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) whose long life 
and great career thrill, thanks to the late beloved Marie Cantoni and her still living dream - 
The Regina Opera. Linda Cantoni, daughter to Marie, is married to the wonderful Regina 
Opera Vice President and eminent Maestro Alex Guzman, who has been so prominent since 
the early years of the company. 

Thank you producer Francine Garber-Cohen, Linda Cantoni, Linda Lehr, Maestro Gregory 
Ortega, the singers, costumers and all who made this La Traviata so memorable! BRAVI!

We and our guests went to Casa Vieja Restaurant nearby for a delicious (Mexican) dinner à 
la Violetta's and Flora's soirèes.

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