Opera Review: La Traviata (The Fallen Woman)
© The Flash List | April 14, 2012
Performed by The Dallas Opera at Winspear Opera House
By Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Sung in Italian with English supertitles
Photos by Karen Almond
This is it. If you’ve been waiting for a truly great classic opera with fantastically talented performers, passionate romance, soundtrack-worthy music, fanciful period costumes, and wildly impressive set design, this is it.
The curtain slowly rises as dreamy notes gently filter up from the orchestra below. The French courtesan Violetta Valery (Myrtò Papatanasiu) walks in a labored fashion across the stage; and as with Satine in Moulin Rouge (the 2001 film based on La traviata), you know the end from the beginning. Despite immersing herself in a pleasure-filled life in the “crowded desert Paris,” she is pale, dizzy, and wasting away from consumption (tuberculosis). As her cheerful houseguests depart to another room for dancing after the celebratory drinking song “Libiamo ne' lieti calici,” Violetta is left alone with the love-struck Alfredo Germont (James Valenti) who has admired her from afar and finds her “mysterious, painful, and yet wonderful.”
Making her American opera debut, Greek soprano Myrtò Papatanasiu has been singing since she was a baby (vocalizing at so young an age, in fact, that her parents were concerned she might have a neurological problem before ultimately recognizing her great talent and enrolling her in children’s choir). Papatanasiu has been compared to the world-renowned Maria Callas, and her emotionally-charged duet “Un dì, felice, eterea” with tenor James Valenti (who wowed Dallas Opera audiences as the womanizing Duke in Rigoletto last March) was a captivating contrast of his strong, steady, passionate tones and her light, airy coloratura. The outstanding vocal showcase left the crowd ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ in a louder than normal buzz at the intermission close of the first act.
Having awakened her love, Violetta leaves behind her life of caprice and devotes herself to Alfredo at a tranquil country home where in the ecstasy of their love past indiscretions are forgotten. That is, until Alfredo’s dad shows up. Violetta’s reputation as a fallen woman threatens the engagement of Alfredo’s pure-as-an-angel sister, so father Giorgio Germont (Laurent Naouri) urges Violetta to “forget this seductive dream” and leave Alfredo for the sake of his family. Making his Dallas Opera debut as well, celebrated French baritone Laurent Naouri is resolute in this paternal role, and plays the pragmatic and protective Giorgio with strength and authority. Violetta suppresses her feelings and complies, but the result becomes a series of intense interactions, dramatic confrontations, and futile attempts to live her last days “from joy to joy” devoid of her “one ray of happiness.”
This gorgeous production (created by the renowned team of designer Allen Charles Klein and director Bliss Hebert) is wonderfully grand with elaborate romantic scenery consisting of elegantly appointed rooms with gilded and tufted furnishings, oversized ornate chandeliers, a large lattice garden structure draped with wisteria vines, and more. Party-going Parisians (as well as dancing Spanish matadors, gypsy fortune tellers, and Mardi Gras revelers) glide around the stage in beautiful gowns and layers of rich, deeply colorful fabrics. By the end of Act II, the extravagant display garnered the enthusiastic praise of a now hooting and whistling audience.
With its abundance of vowel sounds, the Italian language is well suited for opera; and the touching music by Giuseppe Verdi (conducted here by Italian maestro Marco Guidarini) is your guide through this Romeo and Juliet type bittersweet romance which contains a fluid combination of upbeat chorus songs, head-swaying melodic arias, and chilling recitative (sing-speak) which penetrate to the core of the listener. We had been eagerly anticipating La traviata and knew it would be good, but this production far exceeded our expectations. Bravi to all, Dallas Opera; well done!
La traviata runs through Sunday, April 29, 2012 with a running time of approximately three hours which includes two intermissions. It is perfectly suited for first time opera goers, both male and female, and is a wonderful option for date night. It is, after all, the opera that Edward (Richard Gere) took Vivian (Julia Roberts) to see in the movie Pretty Woman. We highly recommend seeing both La traviata as well as an upcoming performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute; however, if your budget only allows for tickets to one, we suggest paying to see La Traviata (tickets start at just $25.00 each) and then seeing the live simulcast of The Magic Flute FREE on the huge screens at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday, April 28, 2012 when there is no charge for reserved seating (or even for parking).
Additional cast for La traviata includes Violetta’s closest friend Flora Bervoix (mezzo soprano Amanda Crider), Gastone (Dallas Opera Resident Young Artist tenor Aaron Blake), Baron Douphol (baritone Tim Mix), Marchese d’Obigny (bass Mark McCrory), Doctor Grenvil (bass Ethan Herschenfeld), Annina (mezzo-soprano Susan Nicely), Giuseppe (tenor Steven Haal), Flora’s servant (bass Bobby Tinnion), and Messenger (bass-baritone Kyle Logan Hancock).