To music lovers whose nights are still plagued by memories of last season's rape of "La Traviata" by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, it was refreshing to see a production of Verdi's masterpiece that at least had its heart in the right place. The Washington Civic Opera presented just that at Lisner Auditorium Saturday night, and there were several good reasons to cheer this free performance.

Most outstanding was the Violetta of Candace Goetz. Her solid technique and voice shaped like a crystal teardrop, her clear yet narrowing top and her unexpectedly rich middle tones all revealed a singer musiclaly equipped for the whole of this difficult role. Hers was admittedly a soubrette Violetta, a popular breed these days, but she also has a musical soul. That this rarity should be obscured by less than perfect attention to dynamics and less than subtle acting is a pity, and should be corrected soon.

Dale Smith sang most of the difficult and usually omitted Act II cabaletta. But he cheated elsewhere, the way so many tenors do, by swallowing anything smaller than a quarter-note. Still, he was full-voiced, gentle Alfredo. With an able supporting cast and chorus, only Reginald Evans seemed out of place as the elder Germont. His voice recalled another era -- that of Yma Sumac -- and at times he gave the impression of having sung not just notes but chords.

Nicholas Muni's busy direction at times seemed directly influenced by Charles Ludlam's "Camille," and the underrehearsed orchestra under Richard Weilenmann sounded as delicate but also as mechanical as a music box. Tradition proved a strong ally, however, and the musical wiles of Verdi's immortal heroine were very much in evidence at Lisner.