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Gay Austin, Vol. 3, No. 8, May 1979
File 014
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Gay Austin, Vol. 3, No. 8, May 1979 - File 014. 1979-05. University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. July 13, 2020. https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/gcam/item/1343/show/1335.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

(1979-05). Gay Austin, Vol. 3, No. 8, May 1979 - File 014. Gulf Coast Archive and Museum (GCAM) Digital Archive. University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/gcam/item/1343/show/1335

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Gay Austin, Vol. 3, No. 8, May 1979 - File 014, 1979-05, Gulf Coast Archive and Museum (GCAM) Digital Archive, University of Houston Libraries, accessed July 13, 2020, https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/gcam/item/1343/show/1335.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Gay Austin, Vol. 3, No. 8, May 1979
Contributor
  • Murray, John
Publisher Gay Community Services
Date May 1979
Language English
Subject
  • LGBTQ community
  • LGBTQ people
Place
  • Austin, Texas
Genre
  • newspapers
Type
  • Text
Identifier OCLC: 5962538
Collection
  • University of Houston Libraries Special Collections
  • LGBT Research Collection
  • Gulf Coast Archive and Museum (GCAM) Digital Archive
Rights No Copyright - United States
Note This item was digitized from materials loaned by the Gulf Coast Archive and Museum (GCAM).
Item Description
Title File 014
Transcript vol. 3, no. 8 GAY AUSTIN may 1979 13 PERFORMING ART& by Gary Reese One of the best kept secrets of this, or any, season of Houston's Grand Opera was the scenery and costumes which Paris-born stage director Jean-Pierre Ponelle had created for the company's new production of Verdi's La Traviata. HGO officials weren't allowing very much, but one thing they did release in advance was the price — half a million dollars, more than twice the cost of HGO's opulent mounting of Der Rosenkavalier, revived earlier this year — and a hefty escalation, even considering today's inflation rates. Ponelle and his costume designer Pat Halmen brought with them a dramatic conception rarely realized in this country — where abstract, symbolic elements mingle with starkly realistic settings to create a total theatrical effect. In Ponelle's own words, "I am always going from the score." But, in the same breath, he explained that the composer's original intentions could not always be honored: "An immediate approach is not possible today" — the sensitivity of the 19th century and its customs are too far away. At times, the tension between these two polarized approaches to staging the opera created the sparks that brought the drama to life, and yet, very often, the director's intentions worked at cross purposes, producing absurd, even comical effects. The basic set design was itself a visual delight: a grisaille of white, grey and tan which extended into the wings and included numerous stairways and entrances hung with scrim or faced with mirrors. Ponelle refrained from abstract stage settings with minimal props, preferring lush cinematic detail: even in the final act, when Violetta has sold most of her belongings, there was nothing the director had forgotten to place on her bedtable — all in tasteful Second Empire style. Ponelle's dramatic conception was also cinematic, the opera's act I prelude staged as a sort of flashback. Around a darkened stage before full-length mirrors wandered an invisible figure holding a candle and lighting the candelabra. Presumably, the action of the drama has already happened and the figure is actually Violetta's ghost. The figure eventually reached the dining table and, under dim spotlights, uncovered the courtesan's corpse stretched out upon it. Then, as the strains of the prelude died away, the corpse was again covered up, the stage bathed in light — footlights, no less — and the party guests sat down to dinner. (I thoroughly enjoyed this touch, but couldn't stifle a devilish wish that one of the principals would ad-lib, "E preparata la cena?" — "What's for dinner?" GAY AUSTIN needs you! GAY AUSTIN needs PEOPLE to: • WRITE •PHOTOGRAPH • PASTE UP •SELL ADS •DISTRIBUTE Share your talent! Call us at 477-6699 or write us care of GCS. 2330 Guadalupe, Austin,Texas 78705. Do it today! Ponelle handled the chorus in a way that, for the most part, I hope will set a precedent for subsequent HGO productions. They never became just a sonic backdrop for the action, or worse, selfconsciously in the way. They added atmosphere in the first act, singing, dancing and mingling behind entranceways and created an illusion of merriment and partying on a grand scale. They participated in the basic stage action, reacting and pointing at the principals. In some scattered instances, this became a bit ludicrous, as when the chorus bounced up and down to the music in act I, but the dimension this approach adds to the drama is immeasurable if judiciously applied. Of particular note in the gambling scene, Ponelle transformed the opening choruses from fatuous divertissements into a critical commentary on bourgeoisie playing at being gypsies and matadors. In keeping with the visual emphasis of the production, the cast was exceptionally handsome. No woman has ever worn black quite as stunningly as Catherine Malfitano in the gambling scene. Malfi- tano has a pleasant mezza voce which fills every corner ofthe house and a nice way with pianissimos, but hers is a voice that begins to kick when put under the slightest strain. Dramatic outbursts were delivered in a very thin, nasal tone and whenever she attempted to swell a proper crescendo, the voice lost both its focus and its pitch. Added to this, Malfitano wandered off pitch consistently and slid and edged onto notes where attack on the phrases should be clean. It made me wonder if Malfitano was able to hear hrself singing from the stage. To her credit, Malfitano is a "thinking" soprano, not afraid to try unorthodox vocal and dramatic touches on a working horse role like Violetta, and could turn it to her favor once she settles into the coloratura of "Sempre libera" on her own terms and avoids overuse of her chest register, which is most unattractive. As Violetta's lover Alfredo, Louis Luma enjoyed most ofthe same advantages and disadvantages of her partner in "demi-monderie." He cut an attractive figure as the impetuous young artist and has an equally attractive tenor voice — medium-sized, burnished tone, even if not entirely under control. While Luma's singing in his middle and lower registers was impeccable, his approaches to the top notes were only occasionally, successful and he wisely avoided the interpolated high-C at the end of Alfredo's act II cabaletta. (I discovered later that this was after Ponelle's directive that the score be strictly observed — no cuts, no interpolations. This makes even more dramatic and musical sense in Violetta's case, where Malfitano sang the cadenza to "Sempre libera" as written, ending on middle A and foregoing the stratospheric E-flat above high-C which is customary in performance.) Ponelle's presentation of Alfredo's father, Giorgio — who breaks up the romance and precipitates the tragedy - was the most surprising single aspect of the drama. Usually portrayed as paternally burly, albeit loveable, baritone Brent Ellis played him as a provincial petit bourgeois, palsied and addled. The Sunday matinee audience didn't know quite what to make of this approach and greeted his unsteady entrances with nervous laughter. There was nothing unsteady about Ellis's singing. He offered a firm line and flowing cantabile in his first scene with Violetta ("Pura siccome un angelo") even if he did not rise to the occasion of his scene with Alfredo ("Di provenza il mar"). Nevertheless, all roads lead to Rome and any successful presentation of La Traviata must logically culminate in the final act with Violetta's death scene. Here the succession of opulent sets which had escalated in brilliance with each scene ground to a halt, Violetta's bed and nightstand before the divested central set piece forming a sort of "auditorium bedroom." What Ponelle had saved up for last was some interesting stage business that didn't always meet its mark and was ultimately unsuccessful. I especially liked the "hallucination" when the revellers, usually kept discreetly offstage, invaded the bedroom and danced with the dying Violetta, showering her with camellias. But the letter recitation — Verdi's own kind of "flashback" written into the score — was dispatched Continued on page 19
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