Pretty-pretty Elizabeth Futral's Traviata stood dramatically out from the rest of the cast Saturday at Lyric Opera's opening gala, but that is rather faint praise for such an achievement. Baritone Mark Delavan soon warmed up as Germont after some tight singing in Act II, and the duet between him and Futral was one of the evening's high points, but tenor Joseph Calleja struggled, as the youthful Alfredo, with wooden phrasing and a voice whose mushy core didn't firm up until Act III.
Futral's coloratura proved up to the dramatic demands of Act I, especially in her ironic treatment of "Ah, fors e lui." She took a nice, comfy, extended pause (she luved that fermata!) before flinging out a gleaming E flat in the cabaletta "Sempre libera," but if that's what it takes for an interpolated high note of that quality, it's not a big deal. Her slide from toast of Paris to dying swan came through in her acting and her vocalism as she choked out her raging words at the end. I imagine Renee Fleming will have some different, more melodramatic ideas about how this role should go when she takes it over in January, and I imagine it will be less effective. But that's why we go back to the opera house.
The other good news was in Lyric Opera's chorus, which has lost none of its vigor or cohesiveness with the departure of Donald Palumbo for the Metropolitan Opera. The new chorus master, Donald Nally, deserves credit for keeping a good thing going. Bruno Bartoletti also led a fine reading, with high violins lending extra pathos to Violetta's death, and staying carefully attuned to the singers' whims. Of course, Calleja had very few whims and kept any ideas about rubato to himself, plodding along squarely in time, so he made Bartoletti's job pretty easy. (And what was up with all that pawing he was laying on poor Futral in Act I? That's not attraction, that's grounds for assault.)
Next up, La Bohème on Monday, with Elaine Alvarez. Opera Chic has the interview.
Photo: Joseph Calleja and Elizabeth Futral, by Robert Kusel