Story: Violetta Valery is the toast of the jet set in 1930s Paris, where she and her vivacious friend Flora Bervoix host numerous parties. Valerie is the best-known courtesan among France’s aristocratic society and she enjoys being a material girl.
When Violetta suddenly takes ill with a coughing spell at one of her soirees, though, it’s a quiet young man, Alfredo Germont, from the bourgeois class who beseeches her to get away from Paris with him to his villa in the countryside. He says that he's in love with her and wants to care for her.
At first Violetta laughs him off, but she becomes enchanted with his earnest devotion and eventually moves with Alfredo out of the city. They seem happy enough, but one day Alfredo’s father, Giorgio, visits Violetta and issues her an ultimatum. He is concerned what might happen to his beloved daughter’s reputation while her brothers cavorts with such a scandalous woman.
Reluctantly, Violetta returns alone to Paris and resumes her night life in the company of her former lover, Baron Douphol. When Alfredo learns she has left, he finds her in Paris and humiliates her in public, throwing money at her in “payment” for her services, and then challenges Douphol to a duel. Giorgio learns of this and is appalled at his son’s behavior toward Violetta, admonishing him in front of the partiers.
Violetta returns to her Parisian home, increasingly ill with tuberculosis. She learns that Alfredo has survived the duel and also that his father has admitted his own headstrong insistence that Violetta leave Alfredo. Soon, Alfredo returns for a brief but heartfelt reconciliation with his dying love.
Highlights: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis opens its 2018 season with a lush, beautiful and enchanting rendition of Verdi’s perennially popular opera, cleverly conceived and directed by Patricia Racette.
Other Info: La Traviata (The Fallen Woman) premiered in Venice in 1853, featuring the music of noted composer Giuseppe Verdi and a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. That libretto was based on a book and play by Alexandre Dumas fils, son of the author of The Three Musketeers, titled La Dame aux Camelias (The Lady of the Camellias). OTSL uses the English translation by Edmund Tracey.
Dumas’s drama took its inspiration from his own brief romance with the ill-fated Marie Duplessis, who died of consumption at age 23. Duplessis was known in French society in the 19th century as a highly polished courtesan whose signature look included camellia flowers. You can read more in Anh Le’s excellent program article.
This production marks a record-tying fifth mainstage presentation (with La Boheme) by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and one with an especially intriguing look. Following fledgling director Racette’s vision, scenic designer Laura Jellinek features a background of slowly unfolding camellia petals, which allow for an entrance at the rendition’s beginning as well as its fateful conclusion.
It’s handsomely accentuated by Christopher Akerlind’s soft and sensual lighting design, which adds its own elegance. Equally impressive are Kaye Voyce’s lavish costumes, from the elegant gowns adorning Violetta to the bright, festive costumes featured in the final act’s masquerade. Tom Watson’s wig and makeup design is especially notable in Flora’s bedazzling look.
Racette’s direction is smart and stylish, keeping the three-act, two-hour-45-minute presentation moving not only briskly but enchantingly. She benefits from a trio of superb singers in the primary roles of Violetta, Alfredo and Giorgio as well as the smart choreography conceived by Sean Curran for the party scenes. There's also a spirited reading of the score by conductor Christopher Allen and members of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.
Sydney Mancasola not only looks stunning as the free-spirited Violetta but also shapes her wonderful soprano around Verdi’s soaring arias for his leading lady. She also displays a strong chemistry with Geoffrey Agpalo, a tenor who shows conviction in the part of the devoted young lover Alfredo as well as demonstrating his own musical talent in the role. Both performers offer convincing portrayals of opposites attracting.
South Korean baritone Joo Won Kang makes an impressive mainstage debut for Opera Theatre with a powerful performance as the straight-laced Giorgio, whose demands wreak havoc both for his son and for Violetta before he experiences a change of heart. Kong lends his considerable vocal talents to Verdi’s strong compositions.
The fine supporting cast includes Briana Hunter as the fun-loving Flora, Jeff Byrnes as the villainous Baron Douphol, Simona Rose Genga as Violetta’s faithful maid Annina, Matthew Dalen as Alfredo’s pal Gastone and Andrew Munn as Violetta’s physician Dr. Grenvil. Samson McCrady, Philippe L’Esperance, Gregory Feldmann and William Guanbo Su do well in other roles.
The final season for departing general director Timothy O’Leary and the first for general director designate Andrew Jorgensen is off to an auspicious and invigorating start with Racette’s polished version of La Traviata.
Opera: La Traviata
Company: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Venue: Browning Mainstage, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
Dates: May 25, 30, June 2(m), 7, 10, 20(m), 23
Tickets: $25-$135; contact 961-0644 or www.ExperienceOpera.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Ken Howard