Suirina, Castronovo and Kelsey rock Traviata

There’s a lot to like in the COC’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata that opened at The Four Seasons Centre last night.  Arin Arbus’ production; a co-production with Chicago Lyric Opera and Houston Grand Opera avoids the cloying sentimentality of many productions of this piece and, without being in any way gratuitous, deals very directly with the world Verdi wanted us to see; a world of hypocrisy, sex for sale and early, pointless death.

0097 – (in foreground) Roberto Gleadow as Dr. Grenvil and Ekaterina Siurina as Violetta in the COC’s production of La Traviata, 2015. Conductor Marco Guidarini, director Arin Arbus, set designer Riccardo Hernandez, costume designer Cait O’Connor, and lighting designer Marcus Doshi. Photo: Michael Cooper Michael Cooper Photographic Office- 416-466-4474 Mobile- 416-938-7558 66 Coleridge Ave. Toronto, ON M4C 4H5

The production is set straightforwardly in the demimonde of the 1850s.  The story telling is straightforward enough too but there are some deft touches.  Violetta and Alfredo’s country retreat suggests crushing boredom rather than rural idyll.  The Act 2 gypsies and matadors are quite weird and sinister with zombie and skeletal elements.  Perhaps the “good life” has an underside?  Act 3 is perhaps the best staged act of all.  It’s very spare and bleak.  Carnival is merely hinted at.  The chorus is off stage and all we see are some shadowy projections on the walls of Violetta’s bedroom.  It works well.

0216 – Charles Castronovo as Alfredo and Ekaterina Siurina as Violetta in the COC’s production of La Traviata, 2015. Conductor Marco Guidarini, director Arin Arbus, set designer Riccardo Hernandez, costume designer Cait O’Connor, and lighting designer Marcus Doshi. Photo: Michael Cooper Michael Cooper Photographic Office- 416-466-4474 Mobile- 416-938-7558 66 Coleridge Ave. Toronto, ON M4C 4H5

This production too is pretty explicit about Germont père’s motivation and values.  This really is bourgeois patriarchy and hypocrisy at its finest (If he’s so respectable and concerned for conventional morality how does he even know about Flora’s party, let alone get an invite?).  So full marks to Arbus for not turning this into something from a Catholic version of a Disney princess movie but, and it’s a big but, there’s nothing here to suggest why Violetta agrees to Germont’ demands.  Admittedly there’s nothing in the libretto either.  It’s a honking great plot hole (not the only one in 19th century opera) and most productions do what Arbus does, which is skip right over it.  The very best Traviata‘s (Decker and Béziat for instance) do attempt an answer here.  Not, I think, a mortal sin to duck this but it is a bit like ignoring the “for extra credit” question on an exam paper.

0406 – Quinn Kelsey as Germont and Ekaterina Siurina as Violetta in the COC’s production of La Traviata, 2015. Conductor Marco Guidarini, director Arin Arbus, set designer Riccardo Hernandez, costume designer Cait O’Connor, and lighting designer Marcus Doshi. Photo: Michael Cooper Michael Cooper Photographic Office- 416-466-4474 Mobile- 416-938-7558 66 Coleridge Ave. Toronto, ON M4C 4H5

The performances are very good indeed.  The pick for me was Quinn Kelsey’s Girgio Germont.  His singing was stylish and powerful enough and his stage presence compelling.  This really is what a Verdi baritone is supposed to be like!  Ekaterina Suirina’s Violetta was both well sung and acted.  She manages the changing moods and vocal demands of each act extremely well and she doesn’t do the “Oh look at me.  I’m a diva” act that undermines so many other good Traviatas.  She’s sweet toned, accurate and always in character.  Charles Castronovo, as Alfredo, took a little while to warm up (opening night nerves?) but by Act 2 was sounding really very good indeed.  The supporting cast, mostly Ensemble Studio past and present members, were excellent and the chorus was in fine form.  Marco Guidarini conducted.  It was a pretty lively reading though from my seat the orchestral sound was curiously muffled at times.  I have a feeling that was a function of being in one of the acoustically less than perfect patches (rare in that house) rather than anything Guidarini did.

Traviata-CH-118So, it’s a very good production with lots of neat touches and nothing to bother the traditionalists but it doesn’t quite illuminate the murky underlying depths of this very multi-layered piece.  The performances are absolutely top drawer.  The COC has assembled a really good cast and they turn it on.  All in all a very fine effort.

Traviata-CH-124La Traviata continues at The Four Seasons Centre.  There are nine more performances between now and November 6th; six featuring last night’s cast and a further three with Joyce El-Khoury, Andrew Haji and James Westman in the leading roles.

Traviata-CH-157

Photo credits: Michael Cooper (first three), Chris Hutcheson (last three)

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12 thoughts on “Suirina, Castronovo and Kelsey rock Traviata

  1. I like Siurina a lot, seems to me like she’s been quite underrated for some reason – perhaps because she’s more unassuming than most. I’m looking forward to see all three live at some point (Siurina and hubby are doing a recital together here in a few months).

    • I first came across her, I think, as Zerlina in the Guth Traviata though maybe I had already seen her as Adina. Anyway, loved the voice and she has great acting chops. She’s brilliant in the Don Giovanni in the Leporello/Zerlina scene that usually gets cut.

  2. Living in the opera backwater that is NYC (even more so with the demise of Gotham Chamber Opera) I am perplexed that we have not seen more of Siurina who I saw a few years ago as Susanna in the best performance of Figaro I have ever seen (rest of the cast was Harteros, Lindsay Keenlyside and Terfel–given what the Met has done since in this opera typing these names almost brings tears to my eyes). I saw Kelsey as Germont last season–he was a replacement for a cancellation and he was great–that rarest of things a true Verdi baritone. He was only scheduled to sing a few Marcellos in the Zef Boheme. Who needs him, they have Domingo signing Boccanegra this season. At least your company, unlike mine, recognizes talent when it sees it.

    • I confess that nowadays I tend to laugh when I hear the cultural cringe about the standard of singing at COC versus the Met. Admittedly nowadays it tends to come from people whose ears went to the retirement home years ago! Alexander Neef has a casting background and he isn’t afraid to back his judgement. I guess that’s why we first saw Quinn K three (?) years ago as Rigoletto and Goerke was cast as Brünnhilde before Gelb got the message after FroSch. There are several other COC regulars who really ought to be seen at the Met. For instance, I’m genuinely surprised that Tamara Mumford will sing in L’Amour de Loin rather than Krisztina Szabó. Krisztina was every bit as good as Russell and Erin in the Toronto run.

      • Don’t get me started on conductors–from everything I have read would love to have Debus here also. Aside from YNS and rare guests like Pekka-Solonen things are bleak on that front also–we are stuck with a bunch of stick wavers like Armiliato and of course Levine until he is carried out feet first.

      • I really respect Johannes and I’m sure he is destined for much greater things. I’m also impressed that he bikes to work! Can’t see Jimmy L. doing that. I’ve seen him in rehearsal a few times and he really knows what he wants and how to get it.

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