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[whitespace] La Traviata
Diva Live: 'La Traviata,' Bay Shore Lyric Opera's latest operatic undertaking, features the direction of opera diva Licia Albanese.

Bay Shore Lyric Opera captures the majestic beauty of Verdi's 'La Traviata'

By Michael J. Vaughn

MOST OF THE HUBBUB at Bay Shore Lyric Opera's La Traviata last weekend centered on stage director Licia Albanese, a youngish octogenarian who had a somewhat successful previous career as a singer. Namely, she played Traviata's lead role of Violetta more often than anyone else in the history of both the Metropolitan and San Francisco operas.

Stage directing seems a natural assignment for Albanese, whose dramatic skills won her an international reputation as a "singing actress" during her prime in the '40s and '50s. Her influence in Bay Shore's production is most evident in Jennifer Der Torossian, who, with her bel canto training, strong acting skills, even her brief stature, seems a natural match for her legendary mentor.

Hard to believe, but Der Torossian's Violetta manages to outdo even her Mimi from last fall's La Bohème. She plays Verdi's doomed courtesan with open, externalized gestures and a fine grasp of her character's more complicated motives. Her cadenzas from the Act I showpiece, "Sempre libera," were simply ecstatic, buzzing with energy like firecrackers ready to go off, and she turned the final scene, beginning with the gorgeous and rare spoken introduction to "Addio del passato" over John Fairweather's lilting solo violin, into a dizzying dance between life and death, hope and despair.

Tenor Delmar McComb continued his own steady improvement, handling Violetta's lover Alfredo in a much more relaxed manner and making use of the beautiful piano high notes to paint the final-scene remembrance, "Parigi, o cara," a simple waltz-time melody drawn from a theme in the Act I introduction.

Traviata's most intriguing relationship springs from Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont, who conspires to cut the scandalous Violetta from his son's life, then later finds himself humbled by her inner nobility. Baritone Carlos Oliva is simply born to this role; his Act II duet with Der Torossian, "Dite alla giovine," is a beautiful interplay of cross purposes.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this production, however, is the increasing strength of Bay Shore's supporting players. Traviata presents a director's nightmare with so many demanding small roles, and Bay Shore filled almost all of them with company regulars. Most exceptional were mezzo Liliane Cromer as party-gal Flora Bervoix (with a striking red-velvet Spanish dress hinting at this fall's Carmen), vibrant tenor Robert Sheaffer as Gaston, and especially soprano Emily Rachel Vahl, who, in the role of the maid Annina, suddenly has picked up about 10 years of maturation.

With the help of co-stage director Juan Sanchez-Lozano, Albanese and troupe were flawless, with a few small exceptions: There was a tendency toward static ensemble scenes (limited somewhat by the small size of the Capitola Theater stage) and an odd outbreak of civility in Act II. Alfredo's hurling of money at his former lover's face and the ensuing glove-slap from her protector, Baron Douphol (baritone Roderick McMillen), were both a bit wimpy.

After the standard warm-up period during the prelude, Anthony Quartuccio's orchestra was excellent, displaying that all-too-rare quality of never drowning out the singers. Many of Meri and Emily Rachel Vahl's costumes were downright stunning--especially Violetta's Act I party gown, a white-lace sundae with satin gloves and attached fan and handkerchief wristlets.

La Traviata continues through May 9 at the Capitola Theater, 120 Monterey Ave., Capitola. For more info, call 462-3131.

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From the April 14-21, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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