Opera Warhorses

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

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Luisotti Leads Triumphant “Traviata” Starring Cabell and Pirgu – San Francisco Opera, June 11, 2014

June 12th, 2014

The John Copley production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” with elegant sets by John Conklin returned to the War Memorial Opera House, after an absence of a decade.

[Below: the John Conklin sets for Act I, set in Violetta’s Parisian apartments; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


The first of ten War Memorial Opera House performances of the Italian masterpiece in the June-July summer season, the performance was the first of six to be conducted by Music Director Nicola Luisotti.

For four of these performances (including three taking place on June 14, 25 and 29) the Alfredo is Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu, who appears with the Violetta of Nicole Cabell and the Giorgio Germont of Bulgarian tenor Vladimir Stoyanov.

[Below: Violetta (Nicole Cabell, left) feels drawn to Alfredo Germont (Saimir Pirgu, right) to whom she was just introduced; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


(For the performances of June 17 and 20, Stephen Costello, who is Alfredo in the “July cast” replaces Pirgu, to permit him to perform the lead tenor role in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in Zurich, Switzerland, which is being filmed for release as a DVD.)

Violetta and Alfredo are the second San Francisco Opera assignments for both Cabell and Pirgu, who were respectively Giulietta and Tebaldo in the 2012 production of Bellini’s “Ihe Capulets and the Montagues (I Capuleti e i Montecchi” [See A Second Look: “Capulets and Montagues” at San Francisco Opera, October 14, 2012].

As promising as their debuts were in the Bellini opera, their appearance together in Verdi’s most popular opera in this production with this conductor proved to be an immensely satisfying experience, both as a musical performance and as a dramatic evening.

[Below: Alfredo (Saimir Pirgu, right) is unaware that Violetta (Nicole Cabell, left) is about to leave him; edited image based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


In their portrayals of Violetta, a Parisian courtesan, and Alfredo, a young man from the provinces ardently attracted to her, Cabell and Pirgu proved to be a physically attractive couple, each with superb acting instincts.  (One could imagine each of these young thirtysomething artists catching the eye of the casting director for a romantic drama for HBO television.)

Stoyanov, making his San Francisco Opera debut, was part of Maestro Luisotti’s production of Verdi’s “I Masnadieri” at Naples’ Teatro di San Carlo (an opera company at which Luisotti, as in San Francisco, is the music director).

Stoyanov exhibited the vocal technique that one expects of an international rank Verdi baritone, which I had praised earlier in my reports on a performance in Berlin [Power Verdi: Stoyanov, Valayre Mesmerizing in Berlin Staatsoper “Macbeth” – April 24, 2009.]

[Below: Vladimir Stoyanov as Giorgio Germont; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Laurie Feldman staged the revival. This opera contains several important comprimario roles, many of which were assigned to current or former Adler Fellows, the prestigious young artists program operated by the San Francisco Opera.

The costumes, by David Walker, reflected such mid-19th century fashions as the hoop skirts worn by the “gypsies” at the Act III party at the home of Flora Bervoix (sung by the Latvian Adler Fellow Zanda Svede in her San Francisco Opera debut).

California tenor and former Adler Fellow Daniel Montenegro (whose lead tenor assignment at the Kennedy Center next season has been announced by the Washington National Opera) was the ubiquitous Gastone. New Zealander Adler Fellow Hadleigh Adams was the Marquis d”Obigny, ceremoniously spanked by Mme. Bervoix.

[Below: Alfredo (Saimir Pirgu, front right, on his knees) has insulted Violetta (Nicole Cabell, seated front left, in black hoop skirt), angering his father, Giorgio Germont (Vladimir Stoyanov, center, in white vest) and shocking the Baron Douphol (Dale Travis, center right, standing behind Alfredo) and the assembled guests of Flora Bervoix (Zande Svede, far left, on floor); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Former Adler Fellow and New Jersey bass-baritone Dale Travis, who does the roles of conceitedly overbearing elders with distinction, was Violetta’s temporary lifeline, the Baron Douphol. Adler Fellow and New Jersey soprano Erin Johnson was Annina.

Illinois bass-baritone Andrew Craig Brown as Doctor Grenvil joined Ms Johnson’s Annina and the three principals in the beautifully sung last act Quintet, routinely cut in 20th century performances, but now always expected in 21st century performances.

Verdi not only incorporates a “gypsy chorus” into Flora’s party, but also a dance with a bullfight theme.

In my experience most stage directors and the choreographers with whom they work, use this opportunity (0r obligation) to display flamenco dancing. For this production California dancers Timo Nenuz and Devon La Russa and French dancer Fanny Ara were impressive.

Yaelisa, who leads the San Francisco Bay Area’s dancing school, Caminos Flamencos, was the choreographer.  Lawrence Pech is the San Francisco Opera’s Dance Master.


I enthusiastically recommend this production, conductor and cast of “La Traviata” for both the veteran operagoer and for persons new to opera.

(I will be reporting later on the first performance of the “July” cast.)


For previous reviews of Nicole Cabell, see: The Stylishly Gallic Santa Fe Opera: Eric Cutler, Nicole Cabell Radiant in Bizet’s “Pearl Fishers” – July 31, 2012and also,

Krasteva, Jovanovich Sizzle in Chicago “Carmen” – Lyric Opera, March 15, 2011, and also,

Eyecatching, Mellifluous “Pearl Fishers” at Lyric Opera – October 16, 2008.


For my interview with Saimir Pirgu, see: Rising Stars: An Interview with Saimir Pirgu

For previous reviews of Saimir Pirgu, see: A Passion-filled “Lucia” from Albina Shagimuratova and Saimir Pirgu – Los Angeles Opera, March 15, 2014, and also,

Stylish Production, Fine Cast for “Cosi fan Tutte” – Los Angeles Opera, September 18, 2011, and also,

Dessay’s Scintillating Role Debut as Violetta in Pelly’s Imaginative Santa Fe “Traviata” – July 3, 2009, and also,

Woody Allen’s L. A. “Gianni Schicchi”: Spoofing Italian Films – September 6, 2008.


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