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La traviata

"Libiamo ne' lieti calici" ("Let's drink from the joyful cups")
Photo: Matthew Staver/Opera Colorado
 
The world's most popular opera continues to dazzle us with its captivating melodies, heart-felt libretto, and—delightfully, in Opera Colorado's current production of this Verdi masterpiece—inspired performances in an epic setting.

Cecilia Violetta Lopez as Violetta Valery
Cecilia Violetta López as Violetta Valéry
Photo: Matthew Staver/Opera Colorado
 
The opera was originally titled Violetta, after the main character, in a story drawn from Alexander Dumas fils' La Dame aux Camélias (The Lady of the Camellias), based on Marie Duplessis, the real-life lover of the author. Performing this role at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House is Cecilia Violetta López. There is no conceit in this; Cecilia Violetta López is indeed a Violetta Valéry for the ages! Her lustrous soprano fills every pore of the hall, and her finely detailed characterization artfully reveals the depth of Violetta's passion and sacrifice.

While conventional wisdom translates the title as "the fallen woman," and there is both the insinuation and circumstances to reinforce this meaning, we must note that traviata also means "to lead astray." Thus, given the period when the opera premiered (March 6, 1853, at La Fenice opera house in Venice), both meanings color the perception of Giorgio Germont toward the relationship between his son, Alfredo, and the woman Alfredo loves, Violetta Valéry.

Thus, Germont, and the society in which he lives, judges this to be the case, so he bluntly tells Violetta that her relationship with Alfredo is scandalous, and is ruining Alfredo's sister's chance of marrying the nobleman of her dreams.

Malcolm MacKenzie as Giorgio Germont
Malcolm MacKenzie as Giorgio Germont
Photo: Matthew Staver/Opera Colorado
 
Germont asks Violetta to end her relationship with his son. In normal circumstances, this is something a courtesan would have no trouble doing, and as we heard from Violetta at the beginning of the opera, it is pleasure and not love that is the focus of her life. But, Alfredo's passion for her changed all this. She is not able to toss off his love as she has done so many times before, and she is pleasantly surprised by these feelings. Her time with Alfredo in the country only deepened their love for each other, and her lingering tubercular illness is less evident there.

But Germont's insistence forces Violetta to break off the relationship that she carries in her heart. Of course, this precipitates the tragedy.

Eric Barry as Alfredo Germont
Eric Barry as Alfredo Germont
Photo: Matthew Staver/Opera Colorado
 
The power of Malcolm MacKenzie's resonant baritone and larger-than-life presence as Germont leaves no doubt why Violetta is compelled to ascede with Germont's request, especially in light of the societal norms concerning class structure at that time. This is similar to Alfredo's dilemma, as he is caught between his duty to his father and the dictates of his heart. Eric Barry deftly navigates this dichotomy; Alfredo's devotion to Violetta is complete and his obedience to his father is unwavering. Barry's melodious tenor and beautifully shaped Italian leave no doubt as to the refined nature of Alfredo's love.

In these three robust performances, it is easy to see why this opera remains a favorite: the dynamics between the main characters are simple, yet powerful; the arias provide plenty of opportunities for vocal derring-do; the melodies are sublime; and there are three distinct catharses—something rare even in the greatest tragedies.

Cecilia Violetta Lopez as Violetta Valery and Eric Berry as Alfredo Germont
Cecilia Violetta López as Violetta Valéry
and Eric Berry as Alfredo Germont
Photo: Matthew Staver/Opera Colorado
 
Verdi's choice of a hard-drinking, party hardy courtesan as his heroine raised the cockles of the censors in Venice, who would not permit him to stage the premiere in contemporary dress, less anyone think such a person as Violetta Valéry lived amongst them. Much like George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession, we see an unmarried woman living an independent life, succeeding in one of the few endeavors—a courtesan—available to her outside of marriage. This forced Verdi and librettist Francesco Maria Piave to place the action in the 17th century "in the era of Richelieu," though it was later returned to its original mid-nineteenth century period.

It is a rare male that can meet such female empowerment head-on, as we see in a number of operas that explore this theme, Carmen being the most prominent. Given that women's struggle for equal rights remains one of the world's central issues, La traviata is as topical today as it was 165 years ago.

Meistro Ari Pelto and the Opera Colorado Orchestra bring Verdi's majestic score to full fruition, in all its power, subtleties, and shadings. The costumes designed for the Utah Symphony & Opera, by Susan Memmott Allred, and the scenery originally designed for the Florida Grand Opera, designed by Peter Dean Beck, and provided by the Utah Symphony & Opera as well, are divine. The Opera Colorado Chorus is phenomenal throughout!

Opera Colorado's presentation of La traviata runs through November 11th. All remaining performances are nearly sold out. For tickets: operacolorado.org/events.

Bob Bows



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