The Hubbard Hall Opera Theater’s Thursday night debut at Proctors’ GE Theatre of Verdi’s “La Traviata” was unlike any production of the opera the large crowd had ever seen.
Rather than stick with the script, director Heidi Lauren Duke opted to use the 50-foot high-definition screen that’s a backdrop for the raised stage to project images both real and illusory as the opera unfolded. This mixing of times between the present and the 19th century was further enhanced with the cast using cellphones to tweet “gossip” about some of the characters in the show.
This initially brought a chuckle from the crowd, but those tweets distracted and the grainy filmed views of the cast changing costumes and texting during two “brief” changes (which were exasperatingly long) diffused the mood, continuity and tragic sensibility of the opera.
All this was too bad, because some of the projected images actually enlarged the tale or emotions of the moment — even the old film clips (Garbo, perhaps?). Props were few but adequate.
Apart from this unusual integration of technology into a classical drama — it wasn’t a rock video after all — the singing for the most part was very good. As the courtesan Violetta, soprano Rachele Schmiege’s voice was lustrous, agile, supple and soared.
Sometimes, she was too much the ingenue rather than the world-weary, sickly party girl, but she and tenor Christopher Lucier, as her lover, Alfredo, saved the best for last. They had done well in their duets throughout the show, but his tenderness and desperation and her sorrow and fervent yearning in the final death scene were first-rate.
Bass Robert Aaron Taylor, as Alfredo’s father, sang with wonderful line, resonant tones and finished phrases. He, too, was most effective in the final scene, as he realizes the harm he has done.
Everyone else handled themselves well, and the six-member chorus provided plenty of liveliness and danced like troupers. Duke blocked the cast well, and pace never lagged, once the drama was afoot.
The costumes designed by Helen Porter of The Costumer were excellent, although Violetta’s final party dress in a cocktail length was a bit out of place. The 22-piece orchestra under Maria Sensi Sellner was up to the task.
“La Traviata” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 and 15 and 2 p.m. Feb. 17.