Kurzak triumphs in Met’s “Traviata”

Sat Jan 11, 2020 at 2:22 pm
Aleksandra Kurzak stars as Violetta in the Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi’s La Traviata. Photo: Marty Sohl

If one can say this about a veteran performer, a star was born Friday night at the Met, as soprano Aleksandra Kurzak ruled the stage for three hours as Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata.

No stranger to the house, Kurzak has appeared in half a dozen lyric roles over the past decade and a half, winning admiration for her exceptionally full, creamy tone, vocal agility, and sensitive expression.

But to carry the show in what is essentially a three-person drama revolving around her character, experiencing the highest of giddy highs and the darkest of despairing lows, is one of the great challenges in the opera repertoire.

Kurzak met it with sparkling coloratura in Act I and deeply affecting phrasing as her character’s fortunes and health declined. High range or low, in aching pianissimo or passionate forte, her voice filled the Met’s vast space without a hint of strain.

To be fair, her performance was more a musical triumph than a dramatic one. In the brilliance of Act I’s “Sempre libera,” one saw more the proud, vital vocal athlete than the heedless party-girl character, and in purely stage terms it was hard to buy the robustly healthy-looking, mature singer as a consumptive youngster. (Verdi, realist that he was, had similar reservations about the soprano who created the role in Venice in 1853.)

But if there have been more dramatically convincing Violettas, few have matched Kurzak for vocal opulence and expressive delivery. One could, literally, listen to her sing for hours.

Tenor Dmytro Popov was a sturdy Alfredo in a performance that emphasized rectitude over impulsivity. The devil-may-care fellow who won a reluctant Violetta’s heart with his mad passion was a little hard to find in Popov’s clear, polished delivery. One believed he was crazy about Violetta because he said he was.

A welcome return from the Michael Mayer production’s first staging last season was baritone Quinn Kelsey as Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont. In one of Verdi’s most original characterizations, Germont comes on at first as the stern voice of social morals and respectability, but ends up admiring and even loving the courtesan he came to scold. In a vocally non-showy role, Kelsey more than held his own with impressive acting skills, a slightly gruff forward-placed voice, and impeccable diction.

The opera’s half-dozen other roles function mostly as foils to Violetta, but that didn’t prevent performers such as Maria Zifchak as the faithful maid Annina, Trevor Scheunemann as the haughty lover Baron Douphol, Megan Marino as best friend Flora, and Paul Corona as the sympathetic Doctor Grenvil from convincingly inhabiting their characters.

The sad, ethereal strings sounded a trifle scratchy in the opera’s opening bars, but conductor Karel Mark Chichon soon had the orchestra breathing with the singers and subtly weaving the drama’s moods from exuberant to tragic. The strings’ shuddering heartbeat under Act III sent chills.

Ironically, considering that Verdi wanted a contemporary drama but the Venetian censor insisted on a setting circa 1700, set designer Christine Jones gave this production a neoclassical look, with pillars, an open dome and stylized trellises that crowd in to make the lovers’ bower in Act II.

Kevin Adams’s mood lighting, with colors sometimes bordering on garish, sculpted the set in response to the character of the music and suggested the various interiors specified in Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto.

While Susan Hilferty’s handsome costumes appeared entirely realistic for 1853, the rest of the production design, and the dumb-show sequences during the preludes to Act I and Act III, seemed to echo Mayer’s Rat Pack Rigoletto for the Met. The Vegas-like (or Venetian?) fantasy seemed somewhat at odds with the contemporary urban social dilemmas confronting the three main characters.

But the Act II party dance of gypsies and matadors—choreographed by Lorin Latarro and miraculously executed by a dozen ballet performers on a stage already full of cast, chorus, and furniture—was a creature of Piave’s libretto, not a designer’s imagination.

La Traviata continues through March 19. Beginning February 26, Lisette Oropesa will appear as Violetta, Piero Pretti as Alfredo, and Luca Salsi as Giorgio Germont, and Bertrand de Billy will conduct. metopera.org; 212-362-2000.

4 Responses to “Kurzak triumphs in Met’s “Traviata””

  1. Posted Jan 12, 2020 at 2:03 am by Peter

    I found the performance the most boring performance of Traviata I have ever attended at the Met (and I attended some in the last 35 years), with total lack of finesse, no real feeling or understanding of the role from Madame Kurzak (Alagna), supported by a cast which was as boring as she was.
    Ms Kurzak’s voice has serious pitch problems and some technique issues as her voice sounded very uneven throughout the performance. Zero personality, just focusing on the singing which was bad!
    This was my first time I left the opera house without being touched by a Traviata performance…. A triumph? A star? What a joke, made me laugh!

  2. Posted Jan 13, 2020 at 11:47 am by Curt

    Kurzak gave a tremendously beautiful performance. Gorgeously sung with many unique interpretive choices.

    Lisette Oropesa published publicly that she was so impressed with Kurzak’s performance.The audience was ecstatic and showed Resounding appreciation in their applause. I can’t wait to listen again to the broadcast. Quinn Kelsey was also wonderful. I however sorely missed Grigolo who would have put the performance over the top. That’s one of the great performances of Traviata.

  3. Posted Jan 18, 2020 at 5:03 pm by Chiarodiluna

    However, I only listened to the radio transmission in Poland. Aleksandra’s performance was very successful. Everyone talks about him here. Personally, I love Lisette Oropesa. I would like to watch and listen to her. I don’t know if this will be possible.

    By the way. An excellent blog. Great pleasure of reading.

  4. Posted Feb 04, 2020 at 1:45 pm by Scott

    I went to last night’s performance (Feb 3) . Kurzak has a beautiful pianissimo, and there were many lovely moments in the 2nd act. Quinn Kelsey gave a very solid performance.Popov was ill and replaced by Korean tenor Won Whi Choi making his Met debut. Kurzack was magnificent in the final Act. I’ am glad that I heard her.

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