There is a new soprano in town, and she's going to take the place by storm. Sally Wolf reigned supreme in the demanding role of Violetta Valery on opening night of Utah Opera's new production of Verdi's `La Traviata.' Wolf's glowing voice came to own the role of the tragic Parisian courtesan who gives up her only love in order to spare his family honor. She ranks among the finest sopranos ever heard in a Utah Opera production.

Act I proved to be one of the highlights of the opera. Violetta's lifestyle of hedonistic excess was wonderfully depicted in the sumptuous Parisian salon sets and exquisite Guilded Age costumes. Tenor Jianyi Zhang, in the role of Alfredo, was nearly a match for Wolf vocally and displayed an easy grace on stage.The duet of awakening love between the two was beautiful indeed, but it was Violetta's aria about her carefree life that will be hardest to forget.

Act II begins with Violetta and Alfredo living in bucolic bliss in the country and ends with a passionate confrontation between the estranged lovers at a glitzy party in Paris. Baritone Victor Ledbetter was dapper and convincing in the role of Alfredo's disapproving father, but both he and Zhang exhibited slight signs of vocal strain in their high range during the emotional party scene. Stage direction and pacing seemed a trifle awkward at times, especially at the point of Violetta's fainting spell.

Among the Utah Opera Ensemble singers who filled the smaller roles, Gregory Pearson distinguished himself with a penetrating performance as Violetta's former lover, and Megan Weston achieved a charming soubrette quality in her role as the maid, Annina.

A rare technical glitch marred the end of the second act, as the velvet curtain caught on something and had to be raised as singers were scrambling from the stage.

The tender death scene was enhanced by lovely orchestral playing, In fact, conductor Cal Stewart Kellogg's musical direction was laudable throughout the opera. Once again Wolf was astonishing.

After this triumphant season, there is little doubt that Utah Opera General Director Anne Ewers and her staff know how to run a first-rate operation. `La Traviata' is sold out, but tickets are presently on sale for next season.