Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Washington National Opera 

La Traviata is the top of the hit parade of the most performed popular operas.  For many of us, this is the first opera we ever heard.  Now it is Washington National Opera’s opening production of the 2018-19 season.
This production of La Traviata  plunges right into the final demise of Violetta as she lies dying in a hospital.  Behind the scrimp we watch the bedridden heroine as Renato Palumbo conducts the overture which carries musically all the ups and downs that will enfold in the course of the evening. 
La Traviata is an opera of contrasts of finding and losing true love amid the pleasures of life and the pain of death.
The opening gala ball with its glittery crowd of dancing and drinking is where Alfredo, sung by tenor Joshua Guerrero, will meet his Violetta, sung by lyric coloratura soprano Venera Gimadieva.  
By the next act, the deeply enamored couple have moved to the country, an ideal place not only for its rural romantic beauty but probably as healthy choice with distance from  Violetta’s life in the city as a courtesan.
 Here a most dark figure appears—Alfredo’s father  Germont, sung by baritone Lucas Meachem. Like so many of Verdi’s father figures—he is at once theomen of doom to come—just as he proposes that Violetta do the right thing.  (Have we not heard this before from other  Aida’s father?)  Their duet is one of the highlights of the opera, even as it will tear everything apart.
This is how a plot unfolds when bad things happen when people try to do good things which are not what they really want in life.  
The good hearted Violetta agrees to leave Alfredo so that his sister can have a proper marriage.  She sets off to return to her old life, sending Alfredo a letterthat spins him into the opposite of love, that is angry rage.  Germont will be there to tell Alfredo he must return to his family, but carefully omitting that his intrusion is why Violetta has left.
There is another gala ball scene at Flora’s, with Spanish dancers and a gambling tables which will play a key role where Alfredo wins at the table but then throws Violetta upon it in disgrace.  Germont will re-appear and scold Alfredo for his conduct toward Violetta. There is a brief reunion of the couple as Alfredo will then wound the Baron, Violetta’s escort, in a duel, and  flee the country.  
There is nothing left for Violetta to do but die.  
There is much that is real life in the opera.  Violetta is so young, maybe 23, with tuberculosis, like Marie Duplessis, Alexandre Dumas’s Camille,  upon whom her character is based.  Her rally before death when she has some of her greatest opera moments (something expected in 19th century operas for dying sopranos to be at their strongest) is has been observed in the dying (while it  also seems to serve opera finales.)
That so many love La Traviata is because it has everything an opera should have. A great drinking song, a love duet, dancing scenes.  Music that one can leave the theater humming.
But why do we go through heart break of all this over and over?  Why do we love the fallen woman, who is so crushed by life?   
Like a fairy tale, she offers the affirmation of life transcending grim reality in her celebration of embracing all its possibilities.  Violetta, who suffers and loses everything in death, has gained an audience for all time  

WNO Production through  Oct. 21, 2018  at the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC. 
The Metropolitan Opera will present a new production of La Traviata  in Live from the Met in HD, on Saturday, December 15, 2018  with Encores on Wednesday, December 19.  The dazzling 18th-century setting changes with the seasons. Diana Damrau as Violetta,  Juan Diego Flórez as Alfredo, and Quinn Kelsey as Germont.