Last night we saw the last performance of the current COC run of La Traviata, this time with the alternate cast. Joyce El-Khoury, Andrew Haji and James Westman came in for Ekaterina Siurina, Charles Castronovo and Quinn Kelsey. We were also sitting in Ring 3 rather than lower down which gave a rather different perspective; perhaps not showing off the clever lighting for the intimate scenes quite as well but much more effective, by giving greater depth, for the party scenes.
It was quite a different experience and it largely turned on Joyce who was on fire last night. Her characterisation of Violetta was quite different from Ekaterina though it took me a little while to warm to it. Ekaterina focussed on beauty of singing and, of course, she has a very beautiful, sweet, voice. Joyce is more crystalline, perhaps even a bit stelly, and she takes more risks. In Act 1 this just came off as a bit more vulnerable; less of a sense of sailing through life largely untroubled, but it built. The Act 2 confrontation was harder, sharper, more the way I read the text and, I think, truer to Arin Arbus’ production concept which looks superficially pretty but has some iron in the soul. This was definitely helped by James Westman’s Germont père. He doesn’t have as wonderful an instrument as Quinn Kelsey but he’s a fine singer and a very good actor. There was nothing “nice” about him in this scene. The ruthlessness of Germont came over strong as did Violetta’s buckling to his will.
This carried over into Act 3 where Joyce was heart breaking. I’m not easily seduced by this piece but I’ll confess to tearing up here. When she sang “God may forgive, but men never will” she was both utterly convincing and the very personification of what this opera should be about. Wonderful really. James too was very good here. It’s maybe the first time I’ve seen the transformation in Germont handled really convincingly. Andrew Haji’s Alfredo was maybe more conventional but gorgeously sung. This young man is a future superstar. He knocked off all the big numbers with power, grace and ease. The only other young singer I have seen recently with the same free Italianate quality is Michael Fabiano and Haji is every bit as good. He can act too.
I guess the lesson, overall, is that sometimes it’s not the most beautiful, purest singing that makes for the most memorable nights at the opera.
I don’t have any photos of this cast in this production so I used one of Joyce as Violetta in Amsterdam in a production you may recognise.