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Principal performances energize SF Opera ‘La Traviata’ revival

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Tenor Atalla Ayan and soprano Aurelia Florian make impressive San Francisco Opera debuts in “La Traviata.” (Courtesy Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)
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Although San Francisco Opera didn’t break new ground Saturday night opening its sixth revival of John Copley’s production of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” strong company debuts from soprano Aurelia Florian, tenor Atalla Ayan and baritone Artur Rucinski imbued the work with effervescent freshness and vivid talent.

Florian, from Romania and making her U.S. operatic debut, flourished as “fallen woman” Violetta Valéry against the sumptuous period backdrop of mid-19th century Paris. She offered an exquisite foretaste of her consumptive fate with a luxurious if a bit unhurried delivery of her Act 1 showpiece aria “Ah, fors’e lui,” which she followed with coloratura bravura in the equally famous “Sempre libera.”

Florian displayed vocal strength and dramatic beauty throughout, during touching, warm-toned duets with Ayan’s Alfredo Germont or Rucinski’s Giorgio Germont, and when she expressed gala insouciance early (in Act 1) or tragically accepted her ultimate fate (Act 3).

“Traviata’s” love story would not be complete without a compelling Alfredo, who successfully woos the hitherto romantically untethered courtesan Violetta.

Ardent, clear-voiced Brazilian Ayan was more than up to the task. Ayan’s chemistry with Florian was palpable, and his singing was consistently beautiful, especially in his richly exuberant rendition of “”De’ miei bollenti spiriti,” his Act 2 declaration of happiness over winning Violetta’s love.

As Alfredo’s father Giorgio, the Polish Rucinski gave lucid, engaging accounts of the role’s lovely arias, most notably in “Di provenza il mar il suol,” his Act 2 attempt to console his son over the latter’s breakup with Violetta.

He did not overpower Florian trying to convince her she must give up Alfredo for the sake of his family’s honor — he gently finessed Violetta with his case, which made her decision to yield all the more moving.

Supporting singers all made solid contributions, and while Carola Zertuche’s newly choreographed Act 2 ballet provided colorful flamenco flair, a more prominent role for Lorena Feijoo, a former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer making her company debut, would have been welcome.

Ian Robertson’s chorus suffused the production with festive sonority, especially during the Act 2 gypsy dance with “Noi siamo zingarelle” and in the Act 1 quaffing celebration “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici,” while maestro Nicola Luisotti conducted the orchestra with precision and sensible power.


REVIEW

La Traviata
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26, Sept. 28, Oct. 3, Oct. 6, Oct. 11, Oct. 14 and Oct. 17; 2 p.m. Oct. 1 and Oct. 8
Tickets: $26 to $398
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

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