Click photo to see portions of the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Martina Arroyo.
La Traviata (7/10/14) & Il Barbiere di Siviglia (7/11/14)
NEW YORK CITY
Prelude to Performance | Martina Arroyo Foundation
Martina Arroyo’s Prelude to Performance, a six-week, tuition-free intensive program for emerging professionals, celebrated its tenth anniversary season with impressive productions of La Traviata (July 10) and Il Barbiere di Siviglia (July 11). The star of the former was the aptly named Cecilia Violetta Lopez, whose confident, shining Violetta was exceptional, especially if, as her bio suggested, this was her first time out of the gate in the role. Lopez has a sumptuous, flexible soprano that carries emotion easily without ever being overwhelmed by it. She used the first act pyrotechnics to great expressive effect, crowning “Sempre libera” with an E-flat that was as beautiful as it was triumphant. The tripartite nature of Violetta’s vocal demands posed no problems for Lopez, whose soprano adjusted easily to the richer, impassioned singing required in Act II and the transcendental poignancy necessary to carry Act III.
Paul Han’s distinctively mellow-toned tenor was a departure from the Italianate cry one is accustomed to in an Alfredo. His musically nuanced approach revealed a thoughtful innocence that was a perfect foil to Lopez’s voluptuous worldliness, but he mustered rage when called for. The downside to his slightly covered tone was that it didn’t always project, especially when he was blocked upstage. Robert Kerr delivered a firmly sung Germont, but was apologetic and contrite from his first entrance, which gave his character nowhere to go. It was left to Lopez to fabricate the tension between them. Samuel McDonald seethed and stewed as a tightly coiled Baron, Marisan Corsino was a flirtatious Flora, and Tyrone Chambers II a life-of-the-party Gastone. DirectorLaura Alley kept the chorus energized and engaged, and created attractive stage pictures, although they were sometimes at the expense of naturalistic behavior. It was hard to believe that neither Alfredo nor Annina would rush to steady the ailing Violetta when she staggered or that Alfredo would relax on a bench while swearing revenge on his lover. But for every odd staging choice, there was an insightful one, such as allowing Violetta to sing “È strano” to Annina. This gave Elizabeth Kelsay an opportunity to make Annina a closet romantic, nurturing a vicarious investment in Violetta’s success with Alfredo.
A winning cast delivered a thoroughly enjoyable Barbiere, with vocal honors going to mezzo Kirsten Scott’s vibrant, vivacious Rosina. Scott sailed through the coloratura with creamy tone and charm to burn. She lacked only the sense of desperation to be free of her situation: it all seemed like a game from which she derived enjoyment at every turn, instead of a daring escape plot that could go wrong at any minute with dire consequences. Despite the occasional tremor, Alasdair Kent’s Count Almaviva exhibited a sweet, limber tenor and was the picture of dreamy nobility. Samuel Thompson was a wry, easygoing Figaro, and he sang with an attractively focused, resonant baritone. He opted out of the high G in “Largo al factotum,” but made a bit out of it. Plaudits belong to Paul Grosvenor (Basilio) and Jacopo Buora (Bartolo), who created characterizations so idiosyncratic that one can’t imagine anyone else coming up with them. Grosvenor physicalized “La calunnia” with fluid, swami-like gestures bordering on interpretive dance. Buora is a natural buffone, and he spat out the patter in “Un dottor’ della mia sorte” to perfection. Actor Kimun Kim gave a master class in scene stealing as an ancient, doggedly single-minded Ambrosio. His slow, shuffling cross bearing a rubber chicken and a butcher knife to the kitchen was completely in character, which made it truly hilarious instead of randomly silly. Jennifer Lazarz’s harried, sneezy Berta was a delight, and she seized her moment alone onstage to zing home her aria with authority. Met veteran Anthony Laciura’s direction ranged from sprightly to slapstick, but like Alley’s, a few staging choices lacked logic. (If the Count has successfully escorted Basilio to the door, why would Rosina and then Figaro bring him back into the room for one more “Buona sera”?) The men’s chorus, led by Paull-Anthony Keightley’s juicily sung Fiorello in Act I and Bongani Ndhlalane’s amusingly wrong-footed Officer in Act II, sang with precision and clarity.
Conductors Daniel Lipton (Traviata) and Willie Anthony Waters (Barbiere) kept the tempos brisk and the ensemble together, although the orchestra played more smoothly in the Rossini. The versatile French door sets by Joshua Rose, colorful, extravagant costumes by Charles Caine, and refreshingly flattering wigs by Steven Horak did their part to show these talented young performers to their best advantage. spacer
JOANNE SYDNEY LESSNER