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La Traviata

Union Avenue Opera, 2014

John Huxhold – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

This year Union Avenue Opera marks 20 years of performances at Union Avenue Christian Church. Yes, the stage is small, the sets are simple, the lighting is minimal, and the singers are experienced but not necessarily well-known. But the acoustics are excellent, the artistic level is top-notch, and the limitations of the venue have been transformed by the company into a “less is more” approach that is completely successful.

Friday night’s opener of Verdi’s La Traviata demonstrates again that this company is something to celebrate.

Soprano Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez, who has had many roles in mostly Midwestern opera companies, made her UAO debut as Violetta, a courtesan. She looked spectacular in sparkling white and lurid red gowns, and she has a voice to match. With just the right touch of vibrato, it has a richness that fills the room powerfully without being strident or overwhelming. Her character is on stage most of the time, but she didn’t seem tired or stressed. Plus her acting was completely convincing.

Also making his UAO debut was tenor Riccardo Iannello. Compared to his co-star, he seemed a bit stiff, with mostly blank facial expressions. But his character Alfredo is similar, so let’s chalk it up to him being perfectly typecast. More importantly, he has a glorious voice with a clarity and technique that make even the difficult parts sound easy. I think Verdi would have agreed that he and Lopez-Hernandez fulfilled his dramatic and musical intentions.

Robert Garner as Alfredo’s father Giorgio was a strong dramatic presence in his big Act 2 confrontation with Violetta. Some deep voices like his wrap themselves around the words and sound muffled, but his diction was precise and intelligible as it emerged from a resonant and commanding vocal quality.

All of the minor roles were excellent — not a weak voice in the bunch — and the chorus of about 25 sounded much larger than its numbers would suggest. …Conductor Scott Schoonover led the orchestra with precision and with careful attention to all the emotional contours in the score.

If you can’t make it to New York’s Met or Chicago’s Lyric, check out Union Avenue Opera. You will discover that there are significant operatic pleasures to be had right here at home.

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