Baltimore Opera's new production of Verdi's "La Traviata," which opened Saturday at the Lyric Opera House, is a smart traditional staging, cast from strength and led brilliantly from the podium.

Conductor Richard Buckley understands the long line in Verdi's orchestral writing. He allowed phrases to establish and resonate, drew telling links between musical paragraphs and responded to the myriad quicksilver changes of dynamic between characters. The orchestral playing pulsed with ardor.

Desmond Healey's sets provided a painterly dreamscape of moldering draperies and gas-lit chandeliers. But Healey's costume designs, as executed here, looked more like products of an efficient costume shop than lived-in garments.

"Lived-in" would nicely describe the animated involvement of the chorus and supporting cast, thanks in no small part to Bernard Uzan's clearheaded and nuanced stage direction.

Among the principal singers, illness forced the last-minute recasting of the role of Violetta. Zvetelina Vassileva proved an unusually complete Violetta, with a soulfully introspective element to her acting. She betrayed hasty preparation only in some rote stage business and dramatic blanking at the most treacherous vocal passages. But her gorgeous voice, with its dark cast and quick vibrato, handsomely served the coloratura in Act 1 and the passionate outbursts in Act 2. She drained the voice effectively of color for her death scene.

Fernando de la Mora was a dashing Alfredo. A decent enough actor, he used his smallish but very beautiful voice with admirable sensitivity. He had hefty high notes when needed but scored bigger points when he floated those notes in a caressing pianissimo. Eduard Tumagian, playing Giorgio Germont, is a terrific Verdi baritone. He was alive to the text and shaded his penetrating voice in a hundred ways. A little mugging aside, he was also a credible actor. (Why couldn't this guy sing "Rigoletto" at Washington Opera?)