City Opera Opens Season with ‘La Traviata’ at BAM

February 13, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Mike Silverman

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Homeless, financially strapped and lacking musical leadership, the New York City Opera still managed to do something that just weeks ago had seemed in doubt: It launched its season.

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And launched it with a fair degree of success. Sunday afternoon’s performance of “La Traviata” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) was a respectable account of Verdi’s eternally popular tear-jerker that drew an enthusiastic response from the sold-out house.

The production, originally created by Jonathan Miller and restaged here by Elena Araoz, is simple and attractive. The set consists of angled walls that are repositioned to accommodate scene changes. Furnishings and costumes are faithful to the opera’s 19th-century setting. There’s nothing to upset traditionalists, and nothing to arouse much excitement.

Violetta, the dying courtesan who gives up the man she loves to save his family’s honor, was portrayed by soprano Laquita Mitchell. At its best, her voice has a highly attractive quality, a honeyed smoothness that can make her phrases meltingly beautiful. But she proved frustratingly inconsistent, often singing slightly flat as she moved between vocal registers. Her acting was restrained but affecting.

As her beloved Alfredo, tenor David Pomeroy made a fine impression. His bright, sturdy voice rang out with ease throughout its range, and he captured both the ardor and the jealousy of a young man in love.

Also excellent was baritone Stephen Powell as Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont. His rich, mellow tone gave his medium-size voice the warmth associated with that rare breed, the true Verdi baritone. He drew the day’s biggest ovation for his impassioned performance of the famous aria “Di Provenza il mar.”

There was good work by the chorus, which did double duty as dancers in the Act 2 party scene, and by the orchestra, conducted with verve by Steven White.

“Traviata” was a conservative opening choice for a company with an adventurous history, but the goal was no doubt to attract as large an audience as possible. The full house, however, may have been misleading: Many of the tickets sold for just $25, subsidized by donors and foundation grants.

Whether the City Opera can become financially viable again remains to be seen. Last year the company announced it could no longer afford the rent at its longtime home in Lincoln Center. To save more money, George Steel, the general manager and artistic director, abolished the position of music director. And barely in time for rehearsals to start, unions representing musicians and other employees agreed to drastic pay cuts.

Sunday’s performance was the first of just 16 planned for the coming months. “Traviata” will be seen three more times this week, and then the season gets more intriguing.

Next Sunday at BAM is the first of four performances of a new work, Rufus Wainwright’s “Prima Donna.” In March, there will be four performances of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College. That production will be directed by Christopher Alden, whose innovative “Don Giovanni” two seasons back was much admired. Finally, in April, a real rarity — Georg Philipp Telemann’s “Orpheus” at El Museo del Barrio.

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