La Traviata's Second Cast is First Best

Oropesa and the rest of the Traviata cast, photo @ Richard Termine
In a Met season there always is an unspoken pecking order regarding revivals. Some revivals are heavily promoted with lots of press, sometimes a New York Times or Opera News profile and an HD transmission. Others are quietly tucked into a season and come and go with no fanfare.

The second cast of the Met's revival of La Traviata seems to have fallen to the bottom of the totem pole -- it didn't even merit a promotional video on the Met's Youtube channel. Too bad, because it's the strongest revival of the year. It surpassed the first cast (starring Aleksandra Kurzak, Dmytro Popov and Quinn Kelsey) in every way. From curtain to curtain it was just a very well-sung, moving performance. Even Michael Mayer's shallow, gaudy production looked better with performers as sincere as Lisette Oropesa, Piero Pretti, and Luca Salsi. (Germont's silent daughter popping up in inopportune moments is a directorial conceit that unfortunately has not been 86'ed.)

Oropesa as Violetta, photo @ her IG
Lisette Oropesa had an unalloyed triumph as Violetta. I was disappointed with her brittle, charmless Manon and was afraid that her Violetta would be impeccably sung but unmoving. I was wrong. Oropesa's voice has the flexibility for the first act, but also surprising power for the second and third acts. She doesn't have a large voice but she projects so beautifully into the auditorium, with gorgeous float and spin. Her slightly tangy timbre and fast vibrato gave her voice a throbbing, urgent sound.

Oropesa is a very musical singer. There was a pinpoint precision to every note that came out of her mouth. It was so nice to hear all the grace notes of "Sempre libera" and the trills in the third act. "Ah, fors' รจ lui" and "Sempre libera" had the exact right amount of contrast between wistful and hedonistic. For those who care about these things, she did interpolate an excellent E-flat at the end of "Sempre libera," but it's the core of her voice that is the most affecting and gives the most listening pleasure. Oropesa differentiated the two verses of "Addio del passato" -- first verse being rather straightforward, and the second verse more idiosyncratic as if Violetta was completely lost in her own thoughts. She can embellish her vocal line with such ease but she can also sing in a straightforward, heartfelt manner like the long duet with Germont in Act 2 and the concertato at Flora's ball.

Oropesa's Violetta was a well-thought-out portrayal with great attention to detail. In the first act, she was artificial and downright unlikeable. She blew off Alfredo and cozied up to the wealthier men of the party. Even her moments alone seemed very narcissistic -- she smiled smugly throughout. To drive this point home she wore a fluffy, bouffant wig.

Oropesa in Act 2, photo @ metopera IG
What a contrast then with her second and third acts. In Act 2 the artifice was gone. She looked simple and melancholy. This Violetta had a "game face" and she had a very different private persona. Oropesa used minimalistic gestures for the rest of the opera to indicate Violetta's increasing fragility. At Flora's party scene her hair was pulled back into a severe chignon with a face as joyless as her hairstyle. She is very obviously Not In the Mood To Party. In the third act, she didn't overdo the coughing or convulsing. There was no victory lap around the stage as she expired. Her dying looked realistic (or as realistic as it could on an opera stage where the soprano still has to sing in full voice). Oropesa jumps to the very top of the long list of excellent Violettas I've seen.

Here is Lisette singing "Amami Alfredo":

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The Alfredo (Piero Pretti) is a replacement for Vittorio Grigolo. Grigolo was fired from the Met after a sexual misconduct allegation. Pretti is the exact opposite of the manic, scene-stealing Grigolo -- he's a medium-sized tenor with an unremarkable timbre and a low-key acting style. However, he has a secure upper register, a rather musical way of singing, and excellent Italian diction. His portrayal had an endearing diffidence. Alfredo, after all, is a rather shy, awkward young man who doesn't fit in with the demimondaine world of Violetta. Overall I think Pretti was a musical improvement over Grigolo. "O mio rimorso" unfortunately had the big dropout for one unmemorable interpolated high C.

Salsi, Oropesa and Pretti from @lucabaritono's IG
The biggest game-changer in this revival was Luca Salsi vs. Quinn Kelsey as Germont. Kelsey has the larger, more impressive voice and imposing stage personality. Kelsey stepped onstage, thundered at Violetta, and everyone was afraid. But Salsi has the vocal flexibility to sing in the cantabile style that's so important for this opera. He also has a more nuanced portrayal of Germont -- Kelsey was blustering and harsh. Salsi was more the well-meaning but prudish father. Salsi did have a few uncertain vocal moments in "Di provenza il mar" but that didn't detract from the overall quality of his performance.

Bertrand de Billy's conducting was much more disciplined and inspired. He opened some of the cuts that Karel Mark Chichon took -- one verse of Germont's cabaletta is back, as were both verses of "Addio del passato." He also really listened to his singers -- the orchestra always was so well-calibrated so that his singers were never drowned out but never indulged either. Even the chorus sounded better than it did in the January revival. And one has to be grateful for longtime veterans like Maria Zifchak (Annina) and Kevin Short (Dr. Grenvil) for the energy they bring to the supporting roles. The group of dancers tried their best with the matador dance but even they couldn't save the choreography.

It's a shame that this La Traviata is not even being broadcast on the radio or over the Met's free live stream service. Your only chance to hear it is if you go see it. There are five more performances through March 19. Go see it.

P.S. To give you an idea of what we might have experienced had Grigolo actually sang, here are Oropesa and Grigolo in the final act of La Traviata last summer in Verona:


  1. What a thrill it was to present at this magnificent performance! Thanks for the great write up!
    Stephen grimoaldo

    1. Thank you! Hooe you're enjoying your trip to NYC!


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