Cher Public

Portrait of a lady

There’s hands-on and then there’s hands-on, and the latter was definitely in play in the lobby of the Kaye Playhouse just before Thursday night’s performance of La traviata by the Martina Arroyo Foundation’s Prelude to Performance program. There at the will-call table sat la Arroyo herself, elegantly draped in midnight-blue lace, stuffing envelopes with tickets and fielding questions from patrons. The diva puts on no airs or graces, but there is the indelible stamp of grandezza even in the way she licks an envelope.

Honestly, that sight would have been worth the trip to Hunter College, but it got even better. Singing, or I should say embodying the title role of Verdi’s opera was a captivating young soprano named Cecilia Violetta Lopez; and “Violetta” is her middle name figuratively as well as literally. When you see a lot of opera, you are constantly hearing sopranos about whom you say, “she could make a fine Violetta” along with some sort of conditional clause attached like “if she could clean up her coloratura” or “if she would try using a little more chest voice” or “if someone could show her how to ‘sparkle’ onstage.” Ms. Lopez needs no such polishing: she ia a Violetta fully-formed and, I think, ready for the great stages of the world.

The voice is a cool, shimmering lyric soprano with an extension to a bright, pingy high E-flat as well as plenty of agility for “Sempre libera.” But it’s the legato singing that makes her special: the voice just flows like spring water. The top blooms attractively on B-flat and C and she can shade the high A-naturals of “Addio del passato” expertly.

She acts with energy and a great musicality; that is, her movement all seems motivated by the precise momentary emotion evoked by the music. Even more to the point, she knows how to be “brilliant” in the first act party scene, flitting and fluttering with a stylized grace that would make Jeanette MacDonald green with envy. She “melts” gorgeously in the second act, her body language now demure, and she manages to be ill and weak and yet at the same time hopeful in the final act.

The production is ultra-traditional, which is I think a good thing in this kind of program; at least it will let the singers know what it is they are rebelling against when they get out into the real world. That Ms. Lopez looks absolutely at home with crinolines and sausage curls and little birdlike hand gestures doesn’t discourage me though: I could just as easily see her in a scarlet cocktail dress high atop a modernistic sofa carried around the room by an army of identical admirers.

Yes, Ms. Lopez stole the show utterly and completely, but it was a show worth stealing: Alfredo (Paul Han) and Germont (Robert Kerr) both wielded solid, well-schooled voiced, and the show as a whole boasted a level of musical precision and dramatic detail that should make conductor Daniel Lipton and stage director Laura Alley very proud indeed. The orchestra and production values for this Traviata may be modest, but the dedication and taste that inform it are to be cherished.

Photo: Jen Joyce Davis.