If you’ve tinkered with the idea of attending an opera but never acted on the impulse, now is the perfect time to give yourself over to the magnificent experience that is The Dallas Opera’s current production of “La Traviata.”
Guiseppe Verdi’s soaring masterpiece opened Friday at the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House and runs for five more performances (see below for schedule).
It’s not necessary to be an expert to enjoy “La Traviata.” In fact, if you’ve seen the movie “Pretty Woman,” you’ve already heard the music. When Richard Gere takes Julia Roberts to the San Fransisco Opera, they see “La Traviata.” At the end of the film, when Gere comes riding down the street in a white limousine to “rescue” Roberts’ the background music is from the most dramatic moments of Act II.
You’re also probably very familiar with the story that drives the action in the opera.
Violetta Valery, a young Parisian party girl, falls in love with Alfredo Germont, a brash young man from a good family. Although recently recovered from a serious illness, Violetta believes herself cured and takes her young lover to live in her country home just outside the city. In order to pay the bills, Violetta begins selling all of her belongings, gifts given to her by wealthy male admirers.
Alfredo’s father pays a visit to the estate and convinces Violetta to end the relationship because her scandalous past is damaging his family’s reputation, thus robbing his daughter of a proper marriage. Violetta agrees to let Alfredo go.
If you’d like to know more of the plot and the backstory to Verdi’s music, you should make plans to be at the Winspear an hour before the performance to attend the pre-opera talk, given by someone with expertise on the current opera being presented.
Friday night’s lecture was given by Hank Hammett, director of opera at Southern Methodist University.
Attending a lecture is a great way to get the “big picture” about the upcoming opera, including a lesson in the political and social climate of the period, along with spicy trivia to enhance your entertainment experience.
For instance, Hammett told Friday’s pre-talk group that part of Verdi’s first version of the opera was censored.
In the opening act of the opera, when Alfredo declares his love for Violetta, she hands him a red camilla and tells him to come back the next day and she’ll give him a white one.
For 25 days of the month, Violetta wore white camelias, but for five days of the month, she wore red. She could not accept Alfredo’s love while she was wearing red.
This blatantly obvious reference to a woman’s monthly cycle infuriated the critics, who forced Verdi to make the flower white and made him rewrite the script, calling for Violetta to tell Alfredo to come back when the flower wilted.
While Dallas’ Violetta did tell Alfredo to come back to her when the flower had wilted, she also flaunted a very red camilla in her hair in the first act.
If you missed the pre-opera lecture, all of the flower business would have floated right over your head.
Myrtó Papatanasiu, the brilliant Greek soprano who is making her American stage debut as Violetta, played the courtesan to absolute perfection. Because of Verdi’s score and story, Violetta carries almost the entire opera on her slender shoulders. She has several arias (solos) alone on the huge Winspear stage, surrounded by the lush but gigantic set borrowed from the Florida Grand Opera. There is no place to hide, either physically or vocally. In addition to being in complete control of her incredible vocal gifts, she displayed a remarkable physical prowess, as the direction required her to fall to floor in a faint several times. Not once did the audience hear her hit the boards, which proves she was in complete control of each fall from top to bottom.
Dallas favorite James Valenti made his Metropolitan Opera debut in “La Traviata” last season, so it’s no surprise that he would be completely comfortable singing Alfredo.
When he spoke to the News-Telegram before rehearsal last Friday, Valenti acknowledged his role in this opera is supporting.
“I don’t have to carry the entire weight, but I have to know how to act,” he explained. “I have to go from boyish naivete to the strong, jealous, fiery Italian thing. There’s a good mixture of emotions.”
He thundered across the stage, stalking Papatanasiu around a craps table, anger pouring from every fiber of his being.
Valenti was in strong voice Friday night, sailing through arias with a sound that has become more mellow and shaded since his Dallas debut in “La bohéme” several years ago.
French baritone Laurent Naouri, who sang a brilliant Escamillo (toreador) in “Carmen” at Santa Fe in 2006, is cast as Alfredo’s father, Gergio. Falling under the spell of Naouri’s maturity, grace and magnetism is an experience you will not soon forget. And his voice? C'est magnifique.
“La Traviata” runs Sunday, April 29 at 2 p.m. and on Wednesday, April 18, Saturday, April 21 and Friday, April 27, at 7:30. p.m. Pre-opera lectures begin one hour before each performance. Tickets start at $25. For more information, contact The Dallas Opera Ticket Services Office at 214-443-1000 or visit online at www.dallasopera.org.
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