Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La traviata (The Fallen Woman) was first performed in Venice in 1853 and the opening night was a disaster. The audience hated the singers, and critics complained about the filthy, immoral themes.
But scandal couldn’t hold back Verdi’s operatic masterpiece. “La traviata” has gone on to be one of the most beloved and popular operas in the world. Directors are always looking for new ways of telling the heart wrenching saga of Parisian courtesan Violetta. And one of them is coming to Seattle.
The English National Opera’s production of “La traviata” makes its first bow in the US at Seattle Opera, directed by Peter Konwitschny in his Seattle debut. The opera will be sung in traditional Italian, with English subtitles
Considered a rebel in opera circles, Konwitschny touts a fresh approach to “La traviata”, described as “an edgy, theatrical approach.” The costumes have a retro flair. No sets. Instead, a series of red curtains are strategically placed and one lone chair.
He means to intensify the music as well as the emotions, so he has pared down the opera to one hour and fifty minutes—with no intermission. He creates art that is provocative and relevant to the times in which we are living. In the case of “La traviata,” he attacks the hypocrisy of modern society.
Konwitschny’s version also has a feminist slant. Not so farfetched. Verdi may have been a pioneering feminist. He was living in sin with a woman. She was shunned, which the composer found offensive. “It’s no one’s business what we are doing,” he penned in a letter. “People need to respect her intelligence.”
The plot of “La traviata” is timeless. Violetta Valerom a beautiful Parisian courtesan throws a lavish party to celebrate her improved health. Along comes Alfredo. He loves her. She loves him not. Next thing you know, she changes her mind and gives up the world’s oldest profession. Now they love each other. His father interferes. She lies to Alfredo. He denounces her, then rushes to her side. Too late, she collapse and dies.
Two stunning sopranos star as Violetta. Corinne Winters, who starred in the ENO production, is making her Seattle Opera debut, sharing the role with Angel Blue, who dazzled Seattle Opera fans as Clara in “Porgy & Bess” (2011). Lyric tenors Joshua Dennis and Zach Borichevsky share the part of Alfredo. Weston Hurt and Stephen Powell (his Seattle Opera debut) trade off as Alfredo’s father, Giorgio. Maestro Stefano Ranzani is also making his Seattle Opera bow.
Verdi’s score overflows with beautiful arias and duets. Even if you aren’t familiar with “La traviata,” you will recognize many of the arias from countless television ads and other forms of pop culture. Highlights? Alfredo shows off his lyric tenor by singing ‘Libiamo ne’ lieti calici’, otherwise known as the ‘Brindisi’, a drinking song. Violetta, celebrates her freedom with the aria, ‘Sempre libera’ (Let me live the life I want). And with her last breath, she sings ‘Addio Del Passato’ (Farewell happy dreams), which can bring tears to the most hardened heart.
Opera fans can be a fussy lot. They know what they love and aren’t shy about what they don’t. Their beloved “La traviata” has a new look, but will they embrace it?
“La traviata” runs January 14-28, 2017 at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall; Tickets $25-$249, available online at seattleopera.org or by calling 206.389.7676 or 800.426.1619
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