Friday, November 03, 2006

My first real review!

I went to Oswego Thursday night to see the dress rehearsal of the Oswego Opera's La Traviata and review it for the Oswego Palladium-Times. Here 'tis! Enjoy...


Those who subscribe to the notion that New York City monopolizes high culture in this state apparently haven't been to Oswego.

The Oswego Opera opens its 28th season this weekend with one of opera's most beloved masterpieces, Verdi's “La Traviata,” presented in SUNY Oswego's Waterman Theatre at Tyler Hall.

Set in 18th century Paris, the opera follows the tumultuous romance of courtesan Violetta Valery and Alfredo Germont, one of her admirers. Driven apart by Alfredo's father, Giorgio, the lovers are reunited as Violetta lies on her deathbed, moments before she dies in Alfredo's arms.

These three main characters carry the opera, and executive director Jonathan English's outstanding leads, all returning to the Oswego Opera stage, do not disappoint.

Each singer can hold the stage as a soloist, and duet passages find the musicians exceptionally well matched, both vocally and physically. Soprano Amy Cochrane and tenor Eric van Hoven make a lovely couple as Violetta and Alfredo. As Giorgio Germont, Bill Black cuts a stern and imposing father figure onstage.

Commanding deference with his mature, warmly resonant voice, Black infuses a heartfelt performance with conviction and patriarchal pride.

As Violetta, Cochrane's effortless, effervescent coloratura in the first act gives way to impassioned legato phrasing in the latter acts. Cochrane's amorous aria, “Ah, fors' e lui,” is simply captivating. Her brilliant soprano, equally stunning in all registers, shines throughout the entire opera, and she handles the notorious, vocally demanding role with seemingly little effort.

Van Hoven fares similarly well in his portrayal of Alfredo. His lively vocal characterization is spot on, making the famous drinking song, “Libiamo,” dance. The tenor's clear, vibrant tone compensates for an initially stiff stage presence, especially in the ardent confessional aria “Un di felice,” when he reveals his feelings to Violetta.

Remarkably, none of these artists has performed these parts before. Following such auspicious debuts, though, there should be no doubt as to their qualifications in these challenging roles.

Under the baton of artistic director and conductor Juan Francisco La Manna, the accompanying Oswego Opera Orchestra has its finest moments when playing at full force, creating a festive atmosphere in ensemble party scenes.

In addition to bringing in top-notch performers from around the country, director English filled his chorus and supporting roles with capable homegrown talent. Among these, mezzo-soprano and Syracuse University voice faculty member Carolyn Weber stood out as Violetta's friend Flora.

Along with scenic designer Joseph Rial, English conceived a simple production that, though it might not translate in a larger house, is well suited to the 525-seat Waterman Theatre. Paring down the opulence of 18th-century Paris into sleek, modern dress, this production does more for the ear than for the eye; minimalist sets and costumes of mostly black and white effectively bring Verdi's exquisite music to the fore.

Oswego Opera Theatre performs La Traviata today at 4 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. With familiar, memorable melodies brought to life by a stellar cast, the Oswego Opera's La Traviata proves that you don't have to be in New York City to find quality opera.

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