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Parisian Passion
The Florentine's "La Traviata."

Elizabeth Caballero in the Florentine's "La Traviata." (photo by Kathy Wittman)

In recent years, the Florentine Opera has occasionally experimented with its staging of opera classics. Nothing as radical as those adventurous European companies (Wagner in Texas or outer space), but the design team has embraced an inventive, often minimalist setting instead of the boilerplate opulence that regional opera companies often rely on.

To open its 80th season, William Florescu and his team have found a way to have it both ways. The stylish staging of its new La Traviata is an explosion of color and great design. But it’s not opulence for its own sake. The scenes shift to suggest the changing circumstances of the heroine, Violetta—from the bold red and black decadence of Paris night life to the snowy asceticism of her winter retreat, and finally to the spare, ashy gray of her final hours.

Of course, this is mere backdrop for the story and singing, and director Florescu and his cast capture all the beauty and emotion of Verdi’s romantic masterpiece. The centerpiece is the wonderful Elizabeth Caballero. Her Violetta is technically assured, and both musically and dramatically compelling. Her famous scene at the close of act one captures the psychological subtlety of the moment—the nuanced character writing Verdi at which Verdi excelled. This is a woman of passionate intelligence searching deep to examine her life.

Tenor Rolando Sanz was a solid Alfredo—delivering the music with clean articulation and elegant phrasing—even if his acting was somewhat stiff and formulaic. As his father, baritone Mark Walters embodied the bourgeois values of the character, but found some heartbreaking humanity in him as well. The supporting roles were all accomplished, and the Florentine Opera Chorus sounded great.

Conductor Joseph Mechavich makes a welcome return to the Florentine (he conducted Susannah two years ago). He and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra delivered a Verdi score that was warm, dramatic and brightly colored. It was an auspicious beginning to a landmark Florentine season.

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