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Vancouver Opera opera completes its run of "La Traviata" tonight. Erin Wall, who sang Violetta, was spectacular and stole the show: her voice was in the zone, smack in the center of the note, and fully supported. She found the pulse of the character, and she carried the characterization through the entire performance. Unlike many sopranos who indicate consumption by getting breathy and coughing a lot, she used tone and color to lose the strength of breath, something very different than the sotto voce she used to convey emotional pain.

Jonathan Miller was the director, and it was a remarkable production. Baritone James Westman, who sang Giorgio Germont, said in an interview with QueerFM, that he had seen a video of another Miller production of the opera. I haven't seen it, and can't speak to how different this production was from earlier productions by the veteran director, but what he got from every singer onstage was a natural physical performance void of the standard opera gestures, including the sudden stop-and-stiffen that telegraphs directly to the back of the house. An example is in the last act, when Westman's pere Germont saw that he had returned with his son far too late, he walked to a chair, sat down, and slowly, over the course of the rest of the act, sank into a broken posture. No sobs, no quick turning away, no clutching: just the physicalization of guilt and impotence. Stephen Wadsworth always calls the singers he works with "actors"; in this case, the singing actors were as skilled as any theater actor in creating a specific movement characterization as well as vocal characterization.

I had heard David Pomeroy's Don Jose a few years ago. To "La Traviata" he brought the passion that was lacking in "Carmen", but he sang with more refinement and style in the earlier opera. His performance wasn't quite coarse, but it sounded unfinished. I feel like I've been hearing a long streak of baritones who are gravelly in their lower registers, but sing beautifully in the top half of their voice with style and lovely inflection, and James Westman fit that bill. The other "principal" was conductor Jacques Lacombe, who is Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony, and he conducted a graceful, nuanced performance.

Among the smaller roles there were two standouts. The first was Barbara Towell's Flora. Not only does she have a strong, secure mezzo, but in the Act III choreography, I wasn't sure whether she was one of the guests playing dress-up -- she was en travestie, in classical Spanish man's dress, and she is tiny -- or a dancer until she was hesitant when the male dancers lifted her to their shoulders. The second was Giles Tomkins, a bass-baritone who sang Doctor Grenvil. He doesn't have very many lines, but his rich voice sang to the rafters. I'd love to see him in a major role.

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As it turns out, everyone backstage was very busy:

The art of playing against the Cup

An operatic score

Performances are over now, but Vancouver Opera’s season-closing production of La Traviata found itself up against round two of the Stanley Cup playoffs. This can be tough not just for audiences (who can exchange tickets for non-game nights), but also for crew, many of whom were gathered around the wide-screen TV on the loading dock backstage, reports VO marketing director Doug Tuck. He says performers like their hockey, too. “I’ve been backstage during hockey playoffs where the singers will come off stage, go to the loading dock to check the score, and then go back onstage.” At the appropriate moments, of course.

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