Opera San Jose brings La Traviata to the California Theatre stage February 11-26th. What a treat! I was spellbound by the performance (Sunday matinee on the 12th). The music, the set, the staging, the story and above all, the singing and acting, especially that of Violetta (Rebecca Davis, Cast I) brought me up to cloud nine and brought the audience to their feet for a standing ovation. Not one of your “well, I’ll stand up part way and see if anyone else does” kind of ovations. We leaped to our feet, the whole full house.
The opera is based on a novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils (son of the Dumas who wrote The Three Musketeers), but more surprising is that Dumas’s novel (La Dame Aux Camelias) derives from his own experiences with a French courtesan, who was loved and toasted by Parisian high society, known delicately as one of the “Grandes Horizontales. Dumas turned his novel into a play a few years later, and Guiseppe Verdi created his opera based on the play. It was first performed in 1853 and is hailed as Verdi’s most popular.
The opera opens with Violetta (La Traviata), hosting a party for the luminaries of Parisian society, all celebrating her improved health. Alfredo Germont, who worshipped her from a distance but had never met her, joins the party, introduces himself and confesses his love. At first Violeta is polite, but not interested, she has no room for real love in her lifestyle. Alredo’s sincerity wins her over. It is not long before he convinces her to move to the country (where his family is) to live a simpler life and recover her health.
Three months later, the second act opens on the couple, living an idyllic life in the country. Alfredo learns from Violetta’s maid that Violetta has been selling, secretly, her belongings in Paris in order to support their happy life together. Chagrined and embarrassed, Alfredo takes off to Paris to try to recover what she has sold. While he is away, his father, Germont, comes to Violetta determined to persuade her to leave Alfredo because her past and her relationship with Alfredo are seriously interfering with Alfredo’s sister’s engagement. Germont pulls out all the stops. Violetta, wounded, but noble, agrees and he urges her to leave immediately, which she does after writing a farewell to Alfredo. Alfredo reads her parting note and assumes she is going back to the Baron who had been her “patron”.
The third act opens with a gala party at the “salon” of Violetta’s friend Flora. Alfredo, distraught and vengeful, enters. He locks horns with the Baron and humiliates Violetta, (still not knowing that Violetta left him out of love), which leads the Baron to challenge Alfredo to a duel. At some point in this chaos Alfred’s father arrives and tries to set Alfredo straight about Violetta’s sacrifice.
Act IV opens with Violetta some time later, in her single bed, obviously quite ill. Her doctor comes in, tries to encourage and reassure her, but tells the maid that Violetta will be gone very soon. Suddenly, Alfredo, who survived the duel, arrives. The couple reconcile and embrace. Violetta has a surge of energy and for a brief time they share hopes for life in the country. Violetta rises from her bed to embrace Alfredo, but instead falls into his arms, dead.
This was good news for me and perhaps will be for you: Opera San Jose General Manager Larry Hancock brings members of the “resident staff” to public libraries to give previews to the public prior to opening nights. We learned the story and fascinating background info and heard the artists sing some of the key pieces at the Martin Luther King Library a few days before the opera opened. Another opportunity to understand the story and the production comes an hour and a half before every performance (except opening night) when Larry meets audience members at the rear of the Orchestra section to share behind-the-scene tidbits and to review what will be happening and how it fits into the story. There is no charge for either the library previews or the 45 minute pre-performance Introduction to the Opera . An unexpected ADDED dividend after the Sunday matinee was a “Meet the Artist” Q and A session (again at the rear of the Orchestra) after the performance. Violetta, Alfredo and his “father” came out to talk with us and answer questions as soon as they had removed their make-up and changed out of their costumes. Seeing the exquisite Violeta in blue jeans was kick. By the way, the English Supertitles which Hancock translates are a great help.
For more information, check out www.operasj.org