On July 13 and 14, Brott Opera presented La traviata in the 470 seat Peller Hall at Ancaster Memorial Arts Centre. Director of Development for Brott music, Jacqui Templeton Muir, mentioned in her opening remarks that it was the Peller Hall’s “baptism by opera”, the first opera performed in this acoustically friendly space. And what a christening it was.
On July 13, Andrea Nuńêz’s debut performance as Violetta was a multi-faceted portrayal of a sometimes all too familiar character. It is hard to believe that this was Nuńêz’s first crack at this role, given that her “Addio del passato” was nothing short of heartbreaking, while her death scene was well acted as she stayed vocally strong until the final note. As Alfredo, Tayte Mitchell was an excellent actor; his vocal strength grew throughout the performance, with the use of some softly spoken words in his arias adding an emotional depth to his singing. Together, Nuńêz and Tayte had excellent chemistry onstage. Geoffrey Schellenberg’s voice was well suited to the role of Germont, and his air of gravitas belied his own youth and added vocal depth to his heart felt “Pura siccome un angelo”.
On July 14, Anne-Marie MacIntosh—a recent graduate of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera—brought a wealth of experience to her role as Violetta. Right from the get go, the audience sensed that MacIntosh was in full control. Her “Sempre libera” was a show stopper, with a strength and sumptuousness which made her vocal fireworks seem effortless. MacIntosh is ready to unleash her Violetta on the world.
Jacob Abrahamse’s Alfredo was remarkable given that, due to an unfortunate withdrawal, he learned the role in an incredibly short time period. When he stepped on stage, the youthful Abrahamse’s light vocal timbre seemed more Mozartean than Veridian, yet his voice gained strength throughout the evening leading to some particularly stellar passages in his “De’ miei bollenti spiriti; O mio rimorso!”. I look forward to seeing how Abrahamse’s voice develops as he takes on more lead roles. Alexander Hajek’s rich tonality made for an impressive Germont; his “Di Provenza il mar, il suol” was a highlight of the evening with its excellent diction, tonality, and phrasing. Hajek’s dramatic touches on stage, such as grabbing Alfredo by the collar and hauling him offstage in Act II, added a depth to his portrayal of a conflicted father.
Supporting roles were equally well played. Angelo Moretti (Gaston), Joshua Devane (Baron Douphol), Nicholas Borg (Marchese D’Obigny), and Doctor Grenvil (Nicholas Murray) were all adeptly acted and sung. Annina (Ayana Platt/Heidi Duncan) and Flora (Emma Parkinson/Hillary Tufford) were excellent in their roles. Tufford’s voice in particular has a rich, velvety tone and strength that points towards future starring roles.
The National Academy Orchestra—Canada’s only professional training orchestra —were in top form under Alain Trudel’s empathetic and energetic leadership. The balance between singers and the 37 piece orchestra was excellent throughout, and the young musicians played with dexterity and enthusiasm.
The chorus of 17 singers, under the direction of chorus master Sandra Horst, was outstanding and showed how critical Verdi’s choruses are in commenting on the drama and setting the mood. Their “Brindisi ” rivalled any version I have seen in countless productions. Part of their effectiveness was due to director Anna Theodosakis’s clever staging, using every inch to tell the story. This was not an easy task given that the orchestra was centre stage. Theodosakis deftly used the limited horizontal space, moving the chorus and principal singers around in small groups downstage, while also building action vertically with a raised platform in the back. So effective was her placement of singers, that at times the viewer completely forgot that the orchestra was in the middle of it all. Kudos to Brott Opera for hiring a creative, young female director to stage an opera about a young female!
Lighting Designer Siobhan Sleath kept things uncomplicated and sophisticated, using bold colours to echo the mood of the opera. Costumes were a modern era mix, something that Verdi would have approved of given his wishes to have his La Traviata premiere costumed in contemporary fashion. The red and black palette of outfits in the party scene in Act II were particularly effective.
Brott Opera is a unique three week paid opera program dedicated to offering highly-talented emerging professional opera singers the experience of performing with a full symphony orchestra. But at no time did I feel that I was part of a vocal experiment with young voices. What I saw was a professional performance, beautifully executed by a skilled musical team.