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Originally published October 19, 2009 at 11:57 AM | Page modified October 19, 2009 at 5:31 PM

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Casting choices spin gold in Seattle Opera's 'Traviata'

Review: It was the "silver" lineup that transformed Seattle Opera's first "Traviata" in 13 years from compelling to enchanting.

Special to The Seattle Times

'La traviata'

By Giuseppe Verdi, a Seattle Opera production, Brian Garman conducting and staging by Mark Streshinsky, continues through Oct. 31, McCaw Hall, Seattle Center; $25-$175 (206-389-7676, 800-426-1619 or www.seattleopera.org).

Opera review |

Unlikely as it may seem, given the presence of one of the world's finest Violettas in what is traditionally called the "gold" cast, it was the "silver" lineup that transformed Seattle Opera's first "Traviata" in 13 years from compelling to enchanting.

Nuccia Focile played Violetta on Saturday with exactly the blend of outward fragility and inner nobility that makes this "fallen woman" so lovable. Her singing, too, plumbed all the depths to be found in Verdi's music, though I felt that on this opening night she did not quite achieve the customary firmness of line that will doubtless come with further performances.

Such a portrayal might have been a daunting act for Sunday's Violetta to follow. But Eglise Gutiérrez, who made her local debut in last year's "I Puritani," proved a thrillingly worthy successor. She rivaled Focile in sheer pathos and mercurial charm, and marshaled her lustrous soprano voice with an exceptional range of color and dynamics. The pianissimo of her "Dite alla giovine," in the duet with Germont senior that has always been my favorite number in the opera, was singing of a delicacy few sopranos are equipped to accomplish or, for that matter, brave enough to attempt, yet she displayed ample power whenever the music required it.

"La traviata" is one of the few popular operas that, as Seattle Opera general director Speight Jenkins has observed, "depend almost completely on the principal role." Nevertheless, Gutiérrez's triumph was hugely reinforced by Sunday's Alfredo and Giorgio Germont.

As Alfredo, Francesco Demuro made a U.S. debut that may well turn out to have been a significant moment in the annals of American opera. His "gold" counterpart, Dimitri Pittas, had enjoyed a considerable success on opening night, but Demuro, slight of figure yet commanding in stage presence, was even more focused in his acting, and sang with awesome strength and subtlety. To call the young Sardinian tenor a spectacular talent is to do him less than justice: this is an artist not merely spectacular but profound and potentially great.

After Charles Taylor's stiffly shouted Germont on Saturday, moreover, Weston Hurt's company debut in the role came as balm to ear, eye and mind. His ability to find the humanity underlying this initially convention-bound father made much better sense of the softening that transforms him in the opera's later scenes.

The other solo roles were strongly taken, and choral and orchestral work under Brian Garman's baton was both lively and refined. Mark Streshinsky's powerful production, in which I regret only the distraction of stage business during the preludes, borrowed San Francisco Opera's traditionally handsome sets and costumes by John Conklin and David Walker, with arrestingly atmospheric lighting by Connie Yun.

Bernard Jacobson: bernardijacobson@comcast.net

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