The Arts
February 14-20, 2007

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'La Traviata'

Photograph by Pat Kirk
Verdi in bloom: Rochelle Bard drew the audience's sympathy as Violetta in 'La Traviata.'

Quick Study

Rochelle Bard makes an immediate impression in Opera San José's 'La Traviata'

By Scott MacClelland

WHEN THE current Opera San José season was announced, Rochelle Bard's photo was prominently displayed at the company's website as a first-year member of OSJ's resident company. (In September, Bard appeared in Roméo et Juliette, but not in the cast reviewed by Metro.) Happily, our long-postponed introduction finds her in one of every soprano's signature roles, Violetta Valery in La Traviata (she alternates with Talise Trevigne in the role). It was worth the wait, and a pleasure to see Verdi's clichéd masterpiece in a dignified the new production at the California Theatre.

Opera San José's mission is to provide accomplished professional singers with stage experience, and Bard appears to be a quick study. Her Violetta not only got a believable characterization but held audience attention at every turn. This is not to say that she has nothing to learn, but her instincts made compelling work of stage director Olivia Stapp's instructions. In the card scene of Act 2, her cameo at the opposite edge of the stage attracted a quiet contrapuntal sympathy.

But it was in her big vocal scenes where Bard drew Violetta's character most indelibly. That was obvious from the start, graced by the diva's subtly told reactions to events and characters around her and an expressive dynamic range that drew in her audience during quiet passages and asserted itself in the large outbursts. These qualities were displayed early on in the Libiamo brindisi, Ah, fors'è lui and Sempre libera. In Act 2, Bard brought the heroine's vulnerability to the fore, especially in the scene with Giorgio Germont, who has come to demand that she end her affair with his son.

Christopher Bengochea, now in his second year as an OSJ resident, could be faulted for less refined acting and for not bringing enough expressive or dynamic nuance to his big tenor, but the voice certainly commands the room with authority. In Act 2's second scene, he became the perfect cad, angrily throwing money at Violetta to dismay of all assembled, but could have seethed more vengefully. After all, this is melodrama.

As Giorgio Germont, visiting artist Vitali Rozynko was annoyingly wooden, though in every case his vocal production made him sound like a worthy future apprentice for a residency. Making the most of their smaller roles, Michelle Detwiler delivered a theatrical Flora, Daniel Cilli held up imperiously as Baron Douphol, Carlos Aguilar stood by gravely as Dr. Grenvil and MaryAnne Stanislaw attended Violetta faithfully as Annina.

Conductor David Rohrbaugh and his orchestra kept the drama moving steadily forward and, particularly in the last act, skillfully avoided any slide into the maudlin. (Likewise, concertmaster Cynthia Baehr in her sobbing violin solos.) The chorus, as we've come to expect, asserted itself as forcefully in its up-front moments as it vanished into thin air otherwise. Giulio Cesare Perrone's set design, a semicircle with five sets of doors and high decorative oval windows, proved both stylish and versatile as interior and exterior spaces.

La Traviata, an Opera San José production with alternating casts, plays Feb. 16, 22 and 24 at 8pm and Feb. 18 and 25 at 3pm at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $65-$85. (408.437.4450)

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