"LA TRAVIATA" AT OPERA PACIFIC

Every operatic soprano makes her own kind of peace with the music of Verdi. Far rarer and more precious, however, is the singer with the innate, essential Verdi in her voice: the throb, the marvelous iridescence as the simplest, purest melodic line whose accents of heartbreak transfigure the stage and the audience as well. Licia Albanese had that command in her prime; Leontyne Price, Maria Callas… who else? As Elizabeth Futral sang Violetta’s spare, devastating lines of surrender and resignation in “La Traviata” ‘s sublime Act Two duet this past Thursday night at Orange County’s Performing Arts Center, one could easily recognize this radiant newcomer to the exalted ranks.
Elizabeth Futral: in less than a decade the young American soprano’s career has ranged far and wide. Last season she was the Stella in Andre Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” at its San Francisco career, a role of high drama but musical impoverishment; she has sung Lucia at the Met to considerable acclaim, taken on major roles in Chicago, Geneva and Munich, braved some of Philip Glass’ dippiest music in his “Hydrogen Jukebox.” This was her first Violetta, but she fulfilled the opera as though she’d lived in it all her life. Opera Pacific’s Costa Mesa audiences are only slowly overcoming the Orange County image of cultural reluctance, but the crowd last week knew to stand and cheer.
The company, founded in 1986 as something to occupy impresario David Di Chiera’s left hand while he ran Detroit’s Michigan Opera with his right, had slumped somewhat in recent years since its founder’s departure, but came to life late last season as newly anointed music director John DeMain (formerly the musical stalwart at Houston Grand Opera) came on with a spellbinding “Flying Dutchman.”
The “Traviata,” which ushers in a fairly safe 1999/2000 playbill — with “Figaro,” “Manon Lescaut” and “Hoffmann” still to come – was anything but merely a routine go at a well-roasted chestnut. On a handsome production borrowed from the San Francisco Opera, Linda Brovsky created a lively and genuinely provocative staging, from the crossed lines of social hostility among guests in the opening party scene to the devasting grayness of the final scene. David Miller, the handsome, believable Alfredo, sang with a young-sounding voice if not yet fully supported; Louis Otey was the elder Germont, hearty of voice and sympathetic of manner.
Best of all, the performance fairly glowed under the shaping baton of John Mauceri, whose shaping of the opening Prelude, even with an undernourished pit orchestra, gave notice of a careful, loving exposition of Verdi’s wondrous score. Traditional cuts – the second-act cabalettas for Alfredo and Germont – were opened, at least one of two stanzas each; the first-act backstage music was played, as is proper, backstage.
As the Los Angeles Opera faces its iffy future under incoming leadership, fifty miles down the Interstate there are signs of some healthy competition from the reborn Opera Pacific. So far, at least, so good.