Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

Opera Warhorses random header image

Brenda Rae, Michael Fabiano Impress in Pelly’s Party-Time “Traviata” – Santa Fe Opera, July 29, 2013

July 31st, 2013

The Santa Fe Opera revived Laurent Pelly’s 2009 production of Verdi’s “La Traviata”, which I have previously described in considerable detail [see Dessay’s Scintillating Role Debut as Violetta in Pelly’s Imaginative Santa Fe “Traviata” – July 3, 2009]. The revival includes most of Pelly’s concepts from the original production, although the second act sets are changed.

The lovers, Violetta and Alfredo, are sung respectively by two young American artists, both of whom appear on the threshold of major international careers.

[Below: Alfredo (Michael Fabiano, left) expresses his love to Violetta (Brenda Rae, right); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


Brenda Rae’s Violetta

Juilliard-trained Brenda Rae, who has achieved stardom at the Frankfurt Oper, returned to the United States in her most important American opera house assignment so far in her career.

Possessing a beautifully-controlled lyric coloratura soprano, she was a radiant and sexy Violetta.

A good actress, Rae showed a range of emotions from champagne-sotted wildness in Pelly’s manic first act party scene, to the resignation of her second act sacrifice, to her third act humiliation, to despair, reconciliation and spiritual release in her death scene.

[Below: Violetta (Brenda Rae, center in pink dress) is the life of her party; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


Michael Fabiano’s Alfredo

American tenor Michael Fabiano, who is a graduate of Philadelphia’s prestigious Academy of the Vocal Arts, inhabited his character with the intensity that one expects drives Alfredo Germont, a provincial determined to be successful in life and love in Paris.

Convincing in his solo second act cavatina-cabaletta combination, he displayed a full and rich Verdian sound in the famous first, second and fourth act duets with Rae’s Violetta, as well as the act three duet that in the past was usually cut, but now seems securely embedded in 21st century performance “traditions”.

[Below: Michael Fabiano as Alfredo Germont; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


Notes on the Production

Two of the “Traviata” acts contains parties, which in traditional productions have been relatively staid affairs – choristers and comprimario artists standing in groups holding champagne glasses and, in the third act, respectfully observing the guest dancers.

Not so with Pelly’s production, in which the first act Violetta, seemingly tipsy from champagne in excess, jumps from one jagged surface to another.

Pelly’s Party-Times

In a wild party that seems like the mid-19th century Parisian equivalent of sex, drugs and rock’n roll (sex, champagne and Italian opera?), Fabiano and Rae have increased the level of passionate sexuality, even from the already remarkably sexy behaviors of their Pelly production predecessors, Natalie Dessay and Saimir Pirgu.

Perhaps no Violetta has sung so much of “Traviata” from a horizontal position. It is especially remarkable in the two party scenes, be it embracing Alfredo, or  lying on the floor of Flora Bervoix’s mansion  in despair at Alfredo’s savage denunciation of her.

[Below: the party guests are horrified at the humiliation suffered by Violetta (Brenda Rae, center, on floor); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


Other Comments

The supporting cast was generally fine. The party-goers included Jennifer Panara (Flora Bervoix), Keith Jameson (Gastone), Andre Courville (Marquis d’Obigny) and Baron Douphol (Jonathan Michie).

Dale Travis’ Doctor Grenvil, besides the two parties, was utilized, with Rebecca Witty’s Annina, for the restored last act quintet .

The performances in the smaller roles were well represented – Adam Lau as the Messenger, Rocky Sellars as Flora’s Servant and Joseph Dennis as Giuseppe were noteworthy.

The gruff delivery of the Roland Wood’s Giorgio Germont was not to my taste. Although I usually disapprove of cutting any part of Germont’s cabaletta, its omission, in this case, did not disturb me.

Leo Hussain conducted. Pelly’s team included his colleagues Chantal Thomas (Scenic Design) and Camille Dugas (Thomas’ associate). Duane Schuler was again the lighting designer and Susanne Sheston the Chorus Master.

[Below: Alfredo (Michael Fabiano, above) is grief-stricken, realizing that Violetta (Brenda Rae, below) is dying; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]



Two important voices  – those of Brenda Rae and Michael Fabiano – made this a memorable “Traviata”. I recommend their performances and the provocative and interesting staging of Laurent Pelly.


For my previous reviews of Michael Fabiano’s performances, see: Fleming, Fabiano, Frizza Fuel San Francisco Opera’s Flaming, Fulfilling First “Lucrezia Borgia” – September 23, 2011and also,

A Second Look: “Lucrezia Borgia” at the San Francisco Opera – October 2, 2011.


Tags: 2005-2016: William's Reviews