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September 3, 2010 > Opera Review: Talamantes enchants as Verdi's Violetta

Opera Review: Talamantes enchants as Verdi's Violetta

By Eman Isadiar

The 700 or so spectators attending Fremont Opera last weekend would agree that the show was well worth the wait. Local opera fans, as well as a growing group of commuters have come to know Fremont Opera as something of an oyster that stays shut for a year, sometimes longer. However, when it opens, it reveals a shiny, new pearl. Verdi's "La Traviata" was indeed a gem of a production, thanks in large part to the dramatic flair of stage director Jonathan field.

The cast featured not one, but two winners of the prestigious Irene Dalis Vocal Competition, namely soprano Danielle Talamantes in the title role and baritone Scott Bearden who sang the part of Giorgio Germont. Gifted tenor Benjamin Bunsold appeared as Alfredo Germont.

Other distinguished artists who each made an important contribution to the production as a whole were baritone Igor Vieira (Baron Douphol), tenor Brian Thorsett (Gastone) and mezzo-soprano Sonia Gariaeff (Flora). Shira Renee Thomas brought much talent and dimension to the character of Annina the maid.

The opera tells the story of Violetta Valery, a high-class 19th century Parisian courtesan, who at first resists the advances of nobleman Alfredo Germont but ends up falling in love with him. She leaves her former lifestyle to be with Alfredo, much to the dismay of Alfredo's father who plots to separate them. He visits Violetta and asks her to leave his son, which she does out of a mix of shame and altruism.

Not knowing his own father is behind the separation, Alfredo publicly humiliates Violetta in a heartbreaking scene, which worsens Violetta's already poor health due to tuberculosis. The two meet again when Violetta is poverty-stricken and in her deathbed. She finally tells Alfredo the truth and dies moments later in his arms.

Danielle Talamantes has the pipes, the looks and the smarts for a very promising future in opera. However, when you add her impressive Italian diction and acting skills to the mix, you have a bona fide star on your hands. It comes as no surprise that Talamantes will join the nation's largest opera company, Metropolitan Opera, as an understudy next spring.

Her rendition of "Sempre libera" ("Forever Free") of Act 1-where Violetta sings of her inner conflict between her attraction to Alfredo and her desire to stay free and single-was one of the production's brightest highlights. Another stunning Talamantes moment was the aria "Morir si giovane" ("To Die so Young") of the last scene, which left the audience breathless and reaching for their elusive Kleenex pack.

Other deeply emotional and memorable moments of the opera were Alfredo's aria "Miei bollenti spiriti" ("My Spirit Boils") of Act 2, which Bunsold delivered in soul-stirring tones, and Scott Bearden's "Di Provenza il mar" ("The Sea of Provence"), which brought the first scene of Act 2 to a close on a powerful note.

Since its inaugural production of Puccini's "La Boheme" Fremont Opera has presented semi- and fully-staged productions that encapsulate the emotional essence of each opera in its most compelling form, but with less of the glitz and sparkle of elaborate sets and costumes.

Two productions later, Fremont Opera has bottled the formula. The secret recipe: principal roles sung by young vocal talent just rising to stardom, a brilliant stage director and a top-notch professional symphony orchestra.

Of course, only a well-admired and influential conductor like David Sloss has the artistic clout and skill to bring the prized ingredients together, and, "voila," it is done.

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