Sunday, July 19, 2009

La Traviata at the Santa Fe Opera, Part II

La Traviata is one of the best-known and best-loved operas. The music by Giuseppe Verdi is wonderful and the plot simple but theatrical.

The heroine, Violetta, is a courtesan in Paris, interested only in pleasure. Then, at a party to celebrate her recovery from an illness, she meets Alfredo Germont, who, she is informed, has visited her every day during her illness and is irretrievably in love with her. Violetta is won over by Alfredo and they leave for the country where they can be happy together and ignore her disreputable past. Alfredo finds out, however, that Violetta is forced to sell all her belongs to maintain her country home and returns to Paris to settle their financial affairs.

While Alfredo is in Paris, his father, Giorgio Germont comes to visit. Giorgio explains to Violetta that because of Alfredo’s relationship with her that the fiancĂ© of his daughter (Alfredo’s sister) is threatening to break off the relationship. In order to avoid disgrace to his family, Violetta must end her relationship with Alfredo. Violetta finally agrees to end the relationship with Alfredo, although proclaiming her undying love for him.

Alfredo is led to believe that Violetta is leaving him for a Count and challenges the Count to a dual. He treats Violetta insultingly earning the disapproval of all. After the dual is completed (with no one seriously hurt) Alfredo flees overseas. Later Alfredo returns to Paris and his father who has suffered a change of heart towards Violetta because of her innate goodness, tells him the Alfredo the true story. Alfredo rushes to her bedside but (alas!) it is too late and she dies in his arms from a recurrence of her illness.

The role of Violetta dominates the opera and in the Santa Fe production that role is sung by Natalie Dessay, the French soprano, for the first time. Her performance was glorious from beginning to end.

Not only did Dessay sing the role wonderfully, she acted the role with passion and energy. Her performance was not entirely unexpected—in the world of opera Dessay’s first performance of Violetta is significant news. The entire performance schedule is sold out and critics from around the world attended the event.

The costumes were brilliant (as you can see from the picture) and the set was an interesting abstract set of differently sized rectangles, which allowed for dynamic movement of the singers around the stage.

I think there were some other singers as well, and (IMHO) they did well enough to make the time between Natalie Dessay’s appearances relatively tolerable.

Tomorrow I’ll have a few words about the significance of the opera as a piece of art.

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