Violetta Valéry: Debra Hogan, soprano
Alfredo Germont: Gregory Schmidt, tenor
Giorgio Germont, Sherman Leatherberry, baritone
UW Chamber Orchestra
Karlos Moser, conductor
Maybe heads should roll at the University Opera. Friday's opening-night performance of Verdi's masterful La Traviata was all but destroyed by wholesale inattentiveness to common sense. These things are the music director's responsibility, and the blame for what happened must rest ultimately on Karlos Moser's shoulders. Had I been a singer in the first act, I'd have wanted to strangle him, probably. It was bad enough, being a listener.
Traviata is an opera only a real Scrooge would not love. It has many winning moments vocally and instrumentally, and it's a good story of class snobbery, love lost to duty, and love regained at the moment of death. The cast had three reasonably strong assets in the principal roles. As Violetta, soprano Debra Hogan needed time to fully warm up her voice, but as the evening went along, she improved steadily, and I came away enjoying her performance. As Alfredo Germont, Gregory Schmidt's light, lyrical tenor was a greater asset than his fairly stiff acting, but with the right training he'd have the makings of a real star. As the elder Germont, baritone Sherman Leatherberry had his hands full vocally, sounding more than a little strained at times, but of the three main singers, his was by far the deepest and most sensitive musical interpretation.
David Torney's gauzey settings worked well as bits of illusion. The Rennebohm auditorium doesn't seem to have very advanced lighting capabilities, so Davin Pickell's design was probably simple by necessity. The costuming, however, left quite a lot to be desired, especially with regard to colors. I'm also left to wonder if men in evening clothes are ever going to show up on that stage in anything other than ordinary, beat-up street shoes.
As for the troubles: if amplification is going to be used, somebody has to be at the controls, that's all there is to it. I was in the hall a full 20 minutes before the curtain, and all during that time, anyone with half an ear would have noticed the volume level was way too high, as the orchestra players warmed up on bits of this and that. Few things are more painful that a grossly overamplified trumpet blaring directly in your face moments before an opera that opens with strings pianissimo. And so it continued all during the first act, to extraordinarily ugly effect. You could literally hear the below-stage orchestra breathing, and for quite a lot of the time one thing you could not hear was the on-stage singing. A correction was made for the remainder of the performance, but even this was distorted by inadequate sound management. The net effect was that the orchestra sound was rather like early recordings, all mid-range and no bass or treble, something you might hear on one of the better clock-radios. In short, nobody was running it, and the performance was badly marred. Poor Verdi! He deserves better, and so does the audience.
Also unsupportable was the state of preparation of the orchestra's string players. Students generally can play far better than that, if they know their parts, and from countless slips, plus the most atrocious intonation I've heard in a public performance since I left high school, they clearly didn't. There too it sounded as if the person who should care the most simply wasn't minding the store.
The opera was repeated Saturday night and will have two more performances on the 28th and 29th. On the strengths of Verdi and a good effort by the cast, I can recommend it. But don't expect too much, or you might be badly let down.
Isthmus, February, 1992
Copyright 1992 Jess Anderson