It went right down to the wire, but a strike by the American Guild of Musical Artists that represents the chorus, dancers, singers, actors and production staff of Lyric Opera was averted by a tentative contract settlement that allowed the September 29 season-opening night gala of Verdi’s “La traviata” to proceed as planned. As if that wasn’t enough drama, Lyric had “fired” a superstar soprano the day before for wanting to be with her husband in New York instead of attending a rehearsal and a costume fitting (see separate “La boheme” review), generating national publicity that the company hadn’t achieved since it took similar actions in 1989 against a then indisposed Luciano Pavarotti. Patrons were also greeted with a surprise insert that these “traviata” performances would be the company’s last for 81-year-old conductor Bruno Bartoletti, who has been associated with Lyric for fifty-one years and who wasn’t being fired but who will now conduct exclusively in his native Italy. Bartoletti’s emotional “addio” and the fact that the curtain was going up at all given the immense difficulties in getting it off the ground, gave the opening a sense of occasion that unfortunately, was rarely matched by the singing or acting onstage. Soprano Elizabeth Futral did a credible job as Violetta, one of the most beloved characters in all opera, but has little of the vocal nor dramatic weight to explore the depths needed to portray this iconic role. Moving and acting more elderly than the supposedly much older Violetta, or even than his father, for that matter, was Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja as her young lover Alfredo, who at times did muster some Mediterrean timbre that was dramatically detached from the passion needed for this role. The best chemistry of the evening was between Futral and baritone Mark Delvan as Germont, but such sparks make this a rather different story. The Lyric Opera Chorus sounded remarkably underweight and unfocused during the party scenes under new chorus master Donald Nally. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Civic Opera House, Wacker Drive at Madison, (312)332-2244. This production is now closed.