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Opera Review (LA): La Traviata by Verdi at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

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To balance out its Wagner-heavy season (Das Rheingold and Die Walkure, both à la Achim Fryer), L.A. Opera has resurrected an old standby. That old warhorse, Verdi's La Traviata, is sure to fill the seats, despite the fact that Marta Domingo's well-worn production has played several times before and been released on DVD with Renee Fleming and heartthrob Rolando Villazon, a recording that has become the bestselling opera on DVD of all time.

This time around, however, there were no recognizable stars, and there was a first-time conductor. There proved to be some surprises in store.

Grant Gershon, the associate conductor, better known as the music director of the Los Angeles Chorale, took the baton and gave a clean, even crisp rendering of Verdi's superb score. To get to play that glorious music must be an inspiration in itself, but more so to be present at the debut of a true Verdi soprano, the talented Russian Marina Poplavskaya.

Ms. Poplavskaya is just 30 years old but already has some 300 roles under her corset. From the moment she came on stage she was mesmerizing. She has tremendous stage presence and a confidence belying her years. Her mezzo has depth as well as brilliant high notes. She excels at pianissimos but can tackle the coloratura passages with smooth athleticism. She is not a great actress, but neither was Joan Sutherland, and Ms. Poplavskaya did display some vulnerability in her death scene. The only thing slightly disappointing about her performance was her omission of the high E-flat at the end of “sempre libera.” Some singers consider it showy, but what is Verdi for?

At the performance I attended, her partner for the first half of the engagement, Massimo Giordano, had departed the scene; in his place was the solid young tenor Alexey Dlogov. Singing with all the accustomed tenor fervor, but lacking the stage presence of his Violetta, Mr. Dlogov seemed more like a puppy-dog than an adult suitor. But he sang well and in that sense didn’t disappoint. Andrzej Dobber was the Elder Germont. He didn’t have the nobility I have seen in the role before, but he sang nicely and was very effective in his scene with Violetta.  Erica Brookhyser was a sweet Annina, Philip Cokorinos a forceful Baron, and Margaret Thompson a nice Flora.

The handsome sets by Giovanni Agostinucci still elicit applause from the audience. The dance sequence was very weak and rather sloppy, but picked up considerably when Timo Nunez began his flamenco solo.

La Traviata plays at the L.A. Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion until June 21.

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