Indianapolis Opera; Clowes Memorial Hall; May 13 and 15.
There are four short acts; the title aptly describes the female lead. Her character is a frail tubercular living with her "man" out of wedlock and dies of the disease at the end — in the key of C-sharp minor. The opera — whose themes include redemption, whose setting is 19th-century Paris — is filled with engaging tunes which come at you with astonishing fertility at the outset. The middle two acts form a contrast between a bustling stage and a quiet setting featuring only the main characters. This quintessential Italian stage work has captivated the world's opera houses since its inception.
Puccini's La Boheme you say? Well, what about Verdi's La Traviata — if you make one allowance: In last weekend's IO production of this middle-period Verdi masterpiece, Acts 2 and 3 were compressed into a single act, with a five-minute scene change, as has very often been done elsewhere.
Otherwise, what I described in the first paragraph applies equally and exactly to Puccini's 1896 and Verdi's 1853 stage works; yet nobody really equates the two. Nor should they, as the explicit story lines differ completely. And the musical structures show the near half-century evolution in Romantic opera.
Returning from her IO debut in 2009 as La Boheme's Mimi, soprano Maureen O'Flynn sang an altogether excellent Violetta, the courtesan, the "traviata" or "fallen woman." She dominated in all four acts with an exceptional voice, both beautiful and controlled — one of IO's best in a title role. O'Flynn especially defined herself in the familiar aria/duet "Sempre libera" — a "drinking song" which closes Act 1. Throughout the opera her high notes simply soared.
Tenor Scott Piper, who later joins O'Flynn in the latter number, sang Alfredo, Violetta's lover. His lyric voice proved a close match to his consumptive lover in their numerous duets. His vocal delivery was largely satisfying while not seeming quite as effortless as O'Flynn's.
Baritone Richard Paul Fink, his voice a bit nasal, nonetheless showed the same well-projected, controlled delivery as our principals in the role of Germont, Alfredo's father. Bass/baritone Thomas Gunther's Baron Douphol (incorrectly listed in the program booklet as "Escamillo"), appearing as Violetta's escort in the Act 2 Scene 2 soiree, made a quite masculine impression as the heroine's — in this case pretended — love interest.
The remainder of the supporting cast — e.g. Paulette Maria Penzvalto as the socialite and "fellow" courtesan Flora, Kristin Gornstein as the maid Annina and Mark Gilgallon as Violetta's attending physician Doctor Grenvil (returning in this role from IO's 2002 Traviata production) all did creditable jobs, though all somewhat inferior to the principals (which is not always true in these productions).
Artistic director James Caraher, now in his 30th IO season, competently led "half" the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (the other half playing a concurrent concert downtown at the Circle) in Verdi's characteristically timid (in his early and middle periods) scoring — filled with "oom pah/oom-pah-pah" rhythms and the piccolo riding herd over the other instruments.
La Traviata's final performance is Sunday, 2:00 p.m., at Clowes Hall.