Unlike most other cities, senior citizens dominate the entertainment market in Miami. Therefore, although many opera houses have a fairly active bar trade at intermission, the menu posted within South Florida's Dade County Auditorium specializes in candy bars, soft drinks, aspirin and Rolaids. While the amount of blue hair and polyester to be seen at performances given by the Greater Miami Opera Association could strike fear into the hearts of dedicated opera queens, I'm convinced that the number of walkers in use could also allow GMOA to challenge the Cincinnati Opera's claim to having the oldest and most infirm audience in America.
The advanced age of GMOA's audience, however, does not prevent local operagoers from partying during intermissions. Indeed, because for many years the management of the Dade County Auditorium -- located in the heart of Anita Bryant's old stomping grounds -- refused to sell booze to its patrons, the elite of Miami's society circumvented such prudishness by creating the operatic tailgate party. On opening night, you can see the chauffeurs of a half dozen Rolls Royces and Bentleys dispensing champagne from the styrofoam coolers stored inside the trunks of their employer's cars!
Despite its high senior attendance rate, GMOA has gotten wise to the fact that most of its audience is very, very old and getting even older. Therefore, management is currently making an extra effort to woo a younger crowd to the opera by aiming at the influx of Yuppies, Cubans and other minorities who are rapidly changing the city's demographics. Ironically, when GMOA first tried lowering the prices to one of its subscription series in the hopes of attracting new audiences, most of the tickets were gobbled up by busloads of golden-agers. "And why not?" insisted one of Century Village's blue-rinse rabble-rousers. "It's the best bargain in South Florida!"
Nevertheless, newer and younger audiences are starting to buy tickets. Whether it's a side-effect of Miami Vice's fashions or the feeling that Miami is a city which is finally coming into its own, the opening night performance of last month's La Traviata drew a healthy smattering of young heterosexual Latinos, Sunbelt Yuppies and middle-class Gay couples. To be sure, there was the usual crowd of aging socialites on hand (a group whose collective fashion violations could make a tired Tenderloin drag queen wince with embarrassment). But hope springs eternal.
Miami is one of the few places in America where operas are still double cast. Three of its subscription series feature artists who are already working the international circuit while the other two subscription series offer young, American artists who are either trying out new roles for the first time in their careers or else working their way up the professional ladder.
What this does for a reviewer is allow him to examine a production on two consecutive nights as if he were being served the same kind of fish cooked with different herbs and spices. Balances change as various artists have good or bad nights and, as a result, a familiar opera can take on an entirely new look within 24 hours. Verdi's La Traviata went through a rather curious transition during my recent visit to Miami. On opening night, the performance was dominated by the soprano singing the role of Violetta. At the second performance, the dramatic core of the evening rested squarely in the hands of Alfredo and his father.
How does such a polarity occur? On opening night, Violetta was sung by Diana Soviero, an extremely skilled actress whose Violetta is one of the most psychologically introspective and theatrically thorough portrayals of Dumas' doomed courtesan. Although Soviero had some vocal problems during Act I (largely because of some cigar smoke left onstage by another actor) she sang with a great sense of dramatic conviction.
By contrast, Marianna Christos's heroine was a bit embarrassing. An extremely uneven artist, Christos (who was reportedly suffering from a cold) ricocheted through much of Violetta's first act with a carelessness that made one wonder when she had last studied the score. Although her fourth act was fairly decent, much of the soprano's performance gave the impression that she was casually walking through a familiar role in order to pick up a paycheck. Having seen many such performances like this before, I can't help but wonder if Ms. Christos has become an operatic example of the peter principle in action.
Although conductor Willie Waters offered firm support from the pit, neither Soviero nor Christos was helped by the questionable quirks of Bernard Uzan's stage direction (which was occasionally amateurish). Although Robert O'Hearn's sets and John Lehmeyer's costumes offered a solid sense of Paris in the late l9th century, while exiting the Dade County Auditorium I heard one little old lady put Verdi in his place by asking "What kind of doctors did they have in those days, anyway? He didn't even take that girl's blood pressure before she died!"
Although I usually tend to zero in on the soprano's work during any performance of Traviata, this time around I found myself paying special attention to the male leads. On opening night, Barry McCauley's Alfredo (despite one botched high note) revealed that the tenor was in much better shape than when last heard in San Francisco's ill-fated Lucia di Lammermoor. Although his voice seems to be darkening, McCauley still looks good onstage and possesses a creditable vocal instrument. As Germont, Pablo Elvira offered his usual solid singing as well as a sturdy portrayal of Alfredo's father.
It was during the second performance, however, that I really sat up and got excited, for the male leads that night were being sung by two artists who were new to me and who hold exceptional promise. Paul Spencer Adkins' Alfredo demonstrated a beautiful tenorino voice which would be perfectly suited to roles like Tamino in The Magic Flute and Ernesto in Don Pasquale. As Germont, baritone Darren Nimnicht was absolutely superb -- singing and acting with the kind of operatic passion which can only come from a committed artist who can deliver the goods. There aren't too many solid Verdi baritones these days, so keep your eyes and ears out for this man. He's got quite a nice future ahead of him.
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This "Tales of Tessi Tura" column originally appeared in the Bay Area Reporter on February 26, 1987.