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A CurtainUp BerkshiresReview

La Traviata - Concert Style
With the Berkshire's own local diva, Maureen O'Flynn, as Violetta, even the heat and lack of air conditioning couldn't keep the Berkshire Opera's concert rendition of Verdi's La Traviata from being a richly enjoyable evening. Neither did the fact that unlike the fully staged productions of the past, this was a concert staging -- meaning no lavish costumes, a few props rather than elaborate sets, and as small an orchestra as is feasible for a grand opera, with the musicians sharing the stage with the singers. What this bare bones staging does is leave it to Ms. O'Flynn and her colleagues to use their voices and acting abilities to provide the spectacular elements.

Judging from the bravos following each gorgeous solo and duet and the thunderous applause when Violetta died beautifully and melodically as only a grand opera heroine can, the audience was more than well pleased. And rightly so. I can't recall when I've heard this exquisite opera more beautifully sung, and the characters portrayed more convincingly.

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Verdi's masterpiece, which had its premiere a century and a half ago, is the familiar adaptation of Alexander Dumas' Camille, famously filmed with Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor. It's the story of Violetta (O'Flynn), the beautiful Parisian courtesan who falls passionately in love with Alfredo Germont (John Bellemer), a young aristocrat. They leave the gaiety of Paris for a life of mutual devotion, but this idyll is invaded by Alfredo's stern father (William Stone) who persuades Violetta that unless she gives up Alfredo the Germont family will be disgraced and his sister's engagement terminated. The elder Germont's demand, Violetta's heart-wrenching sacrifice and the tragic ending sweetened by a brief reunion and the remorse of Germont senior as well as junior -- all adds up to ample opportunity for Verdi's stunning arias,ensembles and choruses that one can delight in over and over again.

Under Mary Duncan's direction, the cast's mostly black and white outfits make for a handsome film noir palllette and the occasional table and chairs plus a chaise for the dying Violetta, suggest just enough of the Parisian salon life and the country retreat.

O'Flynn is no stranger to this role, having sung it with a number of other opera companies, including the Metropolitan. Her performance Thursday night was flawless, her portrayal full of emotional nuances. In tenor John Bellemer she had a leading man to match her good looks and her clarion voice. In the major supporting roles, baritone William Stone, was powerful (both in terms of acting and singing) as the father whose disdain for Violetta turns to admiration. As she is well-served by her leading man and foe, O'Flynn is also strongly supported by mezzo-soprano Jane Dutton as her friend Flora Bervoix. I could go down the list but suffice it to say, there isn't a weak link here. Add to this the outstanding 16-member chorus and Maestro Revzen and his superb orchestra, and after a while I forgot all about fanning myself (The fan courtesy of the house since the past's year's financial problems and changed plans made BOC an occasional tenant rather than owner of the historic old Mahaiwe theater and delayed the much needed air-conditioning).

If I had one minor quibble with the production it was the distracting clop-clop-clop of mezzo Soprano Brenda Patterson's shoes during the second act. It would have been so simple for her to wear softer-soled shoes. On the other hand, what fun to see Rex Hearn do an Alfred Hitchcock style mini appearance during the opening salon scene. No program credits -- but then who needs acting credentials when he can claim the title of co-founder of this scrappy little opera company that is determined to move beyond its recent setbacks leaving the unhappy endings to the operatic stories but not the impresarios putting them on stage.

La Traviata
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Based on La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas (Performed semi-staged in Italian with English supertitles)
Conductor: Joel Revzen
Director: Mary Duncan
Violetta Valery: Maureen O'Flynn
Flora Bervoix: Jane Dutton
Annina: Brenda Patterson
Alfredo Germont: John Bellemer
Giorgio Germont: William Stone
Gastone: Mark Schowalter
Doctor Grenvil: John Cheek
Baron Douphol: Brian Banion
Marquis d'Obigny: Matthew Moore
June 26 at 8:00 p.m. at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA
June 28 & 30 at 8:00 p.m. at the Koussevitzky Arts Center at Berkshire Community College
July 2 at 8:00 p.m. at Chapin Hall, Williams College, Williamstown, MA
Tickets: $65 to $25
For ticket information or a brochure or 413-442-0099.
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