Monday, July 14, 2014

The Critics on UAO's "La Traviata"

Union Avenue Opera's production of La Traviata concludes its run this weekend. Here's a sample of what KDHX's Chuck Lavazzi, Malcolm Gay of Riverfront Times, Mark Bretz of Ladue News, Chris Gibson of BroadwayWorld, Gerry Kowarsky of Two on the Aisle and John Huxhold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch have to say about the production:

Chuck Lavazzi:
"Zulimar López-Hernández has a spectacular voice...[B]etter yet she acts the role with total conviction...The standing ovation for her during the curtain call was both enthusiastic and well deserved... [Riccardo Iannello's] Act II aria drew shouts of 'bravo' on opening night... Robert Garner is compelling and sings a beautiful 'Di Provenza il mar' in Act II... [The chorus's] performance of the Act I drinking song 'Libiamo ne' lieti calici' illustrates why this is a popular operatic excerpt, and they make that big Act II finale wonderfully powerful... Tim Ocel directs with a light hand, mostly content to let the opera tell its story without a lot of gimmicks... 
Put it all together and you have a very strong start to Union Avenue's season. Opera lovers should put this on their 'don't miss' list, but opera newbies should give it serious thought as well." 
Malcolm Gay:
"[A]rtistic director Scott Schoonover is an operatic alchemist, transforming the restraints of a limited budget into theatrical gold... Particularly outstanding was the contrast between Iannello's intense ardor and López-Hernández's brash coquettishness in 'Un di felice, eterea,' which was soon matched by her defiant vocal agility that played so beautifully against his grounded tenacity in 'Sempre libera'... Garner has a deep, rich voice that wraps around you like a lambskin glove in duets like 'Un di, quando le veneri'... Directed by Tim Ocel, the production makes effective use of the set, opening each act with a portentous image of Alfredo at Violetta's grave... Mark Freiman and Robert Reed sing well in the supporting roles of Baron Douphol and Doctor Grenvile. Similarly, the chorus is populated with strong voices, and its members excel in the matador and gypsy dances of Act Two...
Joined by Iannello and Garner, they deliver the opera's potent final songs with an overwhelming emotional force...It's that sort of grand operatic moment — often felt at UAO — that's usually reserved for the big stage, and with a Violetta like this, there's little doubt López-Hernández will be there soon enough. "
Mark Bretz:
"[López-Hernández and Iannello] display beautiful, rich, resonant voices that amply convey the beauty and majesty of Verdi’s music... They are ably supported by Robert Garner...[whose] deep, powerful baritone delivers some of La Traviata’s most compelling arias in singular fashion... Scott Schoonover’s conducting of the melodious score is robust and exhilarating throughout, receiving expert response from the UAO orchestra. Tim Ocel’s stage direction shrewdly utilizes side entrances to the compact stage as well as eliciting direct, focused performances by his cast...
Schoonover and Union Avenue Opera have contributed substantially to the area’s cultural landscape in the past two decades. This sumptuous interpretation of La Traviata indicates that UAO is as polished and accomplished as ever."
Chris Gibson:
"Zulimar López-Hernández does outstanding work as Violetta, and her soprano voice is more than up to the demands of the score... [T]he blending of her voice with [Riccardo Iannello's] tenor is simply marvelous. Both are able to convey their emotions and desires vocally as well as through their acting performances... Robert Garner makes an impression as well as Giorgio...he doesn't come across as a villain, but more as a concerned father who may be more misguided in his actions than anything else... 
Union Avenue Opera has put together a memorable and moving production of this timeless work that demands your time and attention."
Gerry Kowarsky:
"López-Hernández portrayed Violetta's inner struggles with remarkable power and clarity... Riccardo Iannello was a sweet young man as Alfredo and he had a sweet voice to match... Robert Garner convincingly evinced Giorgio Germont's concern for both his children and eventually for Violetta, too... The ensemble had striking presence... Teresa Doggett's costumes and Maureen Berry's lighting were solid contributions to one of Union Avenue's strongest productions ever."
John Huxhold:
"Friday night’s opener of Verdi’s 'La Traviata,' demonstrates again that this company is something to celebrate... [Zulimar López-Hernández] looked spectacular in sparkling white and lurid red gowns, and she has a voice to match...her acting was completely convincing... [Riccardo Iannello] has a glorious voice with a clarity and technique that make even the difficult parts sound easy... Robert Garner as Alfredo’s father Giorgio was a strong dramatic presence...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... Tim Ocel’s stage direction was fluid without any awkward moments, even in long orchestra interludes or when positioning the principals in the final death scene... 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."
La Traviata concludes its run this weekend: July 18 and 19 at Union Avenue Opera, 733 N. Union Blvd. Performances begin at 8:00pm. Production sung in Italian with projected English supertitles. Tickets may be purchased online at or by calling 314-361-2881.

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