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Princeton Symphony Orchestra Brings a Bit Of Opera to Princeton With La Traviata

Nancy Plum

Sixteen inches of snow two weeks ago forced postponement of Princeton Symphony Orchestra's original concert performance of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata, but orchestra, soloists, and chorus reconvened on Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium to present a notable rendition of the three-act opera. This was a huge production, both in terms of numbers and stature of the soloists – these were some major players who came to Princeton to mesmerize the audience with their singing.

La Traviata, which premiered in 1853, came at a pivotal time in operatic history. Arias retained much of the elaborate coloratura of the 18th century, but were underscored with the drama and pathos that was prevalent in the Romantic era. Conductor Mark Laycock wisely chose singers for this performance who demonstrated both agility and vocal power.

Meagan Miller's Violetta sizzled from the minute she walked onstage. Fiery with red hair and a burnt rust dress to contrast with everyone else's black, Ms. Miller was the epitome of "girls just want to have fun," succumbing quickly to Stuart Neill's spell as Alfredo. Their first act duet showed dynamic variety from both singers, and the mood of the duet changed both audibly and visually as Violetta was lured into Alfredo's web. In Violetta's showcase aria, "Sempre Libera," Ms. Miller skipped effortlessly through the coloratura with lightness and authority.

With all his experience at the Metropolitan Opera, as well as worldwide, Stuart Neill could no doubt sing the role of Alfredo in his sleep, and he displayed consistently solid singing and command of the role. Mr. Neill and Mr. Laycock had meticulously worked out the rallantandos and other musical effects, and at times, Mr. Laycock wisely let the music just play itself.

In addition to Violetta and Alfredo, the third significant role is Alfredo's father, Germont, sung by Todd Thomas. Mr. Thomas may not have looked quite old enough to be Alfredo's father, but he was certainly convincingly angry enough about his consorting with Violetta. The most poignant scene in the opera, the one in which Germont convinces Violetta to give up Alfredo, was sung by Mr. Thomas and Ms. Miller with emotionalism, as Germont manipulated Violetta's state of mind with skill.

The other characters came and went throughout the opera, and the credentials of these singers were surprising considering their minor roles. Annina and Flora, attendant and friend to Violetta, were well sung by Serena Benedetti and Lucille Beer, both established singers with international careers. The minor male characters were also performed by solid Metropolitan Opera level performers, including Brian McIntosh, Joseph Spinella, Brandon Wood, Stephen Bryant, and local Elem Eley. One unusual bit of casting was to draw a recurring role for a messenger/servant from the orchestra's own horn section in first chair Douglas Lundeen, when someone from the chorus probably would have been more than happy to sing that part.

Mr. Laycock's tempi were certainly on the quick side, retaining what was likely the original style of the opera. With the strings playing with very little vibrato in the opening overture, it seemed from the start that this presentation might be more like the opera was intended to be in its lightness and crispness. Alan Harler's Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia was well trained and quick to respond to Mr. Laycock's fast tempi, although keeping up and getting into the music on time was sometimes a problem.

With this performance, Princeton Symphony Orchestra continues to show its strength in playing and ability to administratively and fiscally put on such a program. This was an immense undertaking, but the audience reaction made it clear that concert performances of opera are going to continue to be a part of Princeton Symphony's future.


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