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Musical Arts Center - Indiana University
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IU Opera Theater's 'La Traviata' Brilliant

by Rita Kohn
April 11, 2014
Musical Arts Center - Indiana University
101 North Jordan Ave
Bloomington, IN 47406
(812) 855-7433
Rita Kohn is a member of the Board of the Dance Critics Association.
Brilliantly conceived, produced, and performed, Indiana University Opera and Ballet Theater's newly-mounted "La Traviata" [The Fallen Woman] probed beyond the usual way we look at this oft-produced 161-year-old opera. It highlighted an antiquated view of the way people perceived their roles in a particular social order, with marriage suitability as the pivot point.

Matthew Leone, in the program notes, traced how and why censors and opera house producers have made slight changes to the opera's original storyline to conform to community mores at each particular place and time of performance. Leone's essay led us into the intent of conductor Joseph Rescigno and stage director Jeffrey Buchman, who brought us into the world of subtext and an examination of our own thinking.

The overture distilled a father-son moment of capturing a butterfly, its impaling and glass-case enclosing. While the child disdained what he had just done, his father praised him for his prize. We hold dominion over butterflies.

Fast forward fifteen years. Violetta in a dress startlingly resembling that of a butterfly is gazing longingly out of a glass-encased grand salon; the gaiety of a party behind her. Not a word has been uttered yet musically, visually we know.

Fast-forward three months to the Act II country villa Violetta now shares with Alfredo. The butterfly case on a table confirms the arc of connectivity. And so it goes contextually throughout Opera's three acts. Minute details recurred as echoes from past to present, reflections as refractions to the very end - an amazing, chillingly heartbreaking final scene with no flailing as for the dying swan, just a moment of illuminated zest for life before vitality is stilled.

Throughout, Violetta proved herself less shallow than those who would disdain her.

Alfredo's father was forced to change his arguments when confronting her for the sake of the happiness of his "pure and innocent daughter." It was Violetta's generosity upon which he preyed, only later having to repent for his parsimonious behavior.

The cast, working within this careful reading, brings to light and life far more meaningful relationships than ever before witnessed during any of the other multiple "La Traviata's" I've attended. None ever materialized Violetta's perceived destiny, thoughts and fears as apparitions before our eyes. This underscored Violetta's transformation from life as a neverending party to one of sharing an abiding love. Circumstance may have placed her outside of "polite society," but her humanity elevated her. Only having 20 sous left in her coin box, as the merrymaking of Mardi Gras surrounded her deathbed, Violetta instructed her maid to hurry out to give ten to the poor.

With splendid costumes by Linda Pisano, set design by Cameron Anderson and Patrick Mero's lighting all depicting mid-19th century Paris as Verdi intended, IU's production's look might have been 1850, but the feel was contemporary.

For the four performances, the lead roles alternated between two casts: Shannon Love and Lacy Sauter as Violetta Valery; Andrew Maugham and Derrek Stark as Alfredo Germont and Joshua Conyers and Daniel Narducci as Giorgio Germont. They, together with the supporting cast and chorus, delivered sterling acting and singing. The orchestra amazed especially the solo clarinetist. Equally, the ten dancers at the beginning of Act III merit attention for interpreting choreographer Rosa Mercedes' flamenco with mesmerizing precision.

Composer Giuseppe Verdi and librettist Franceso Maria Piave based their 1853 "La Traviata" on "Lady of the Camellias," the 1848 novel and 1852 stage play by Alexander Dumas fils. A quarter of a century later Henriik Ibsen wrote "The Doll's House," not so much a statement for the rights of women as it was and remains as a statement for each of us to liberate ourselves and strive to be who we really are. IU's stunning "La Traviata" shows how Verdi and Piave led the way.
A scene from 'La Traviata' with Leslie Renee, Rachel Evans and Christa Ruiz at Musical Arts Center. Photo Courtesy of IU Opera and Ballet Theater.

A scene from "La Traviata" with Leslie Renee, Rachel Evans and Christa Ruiz at Musical Arts Center. Photo Courtesy of IU Opera and Ballet Theater.


A scene from 'La Traviata' with Christa Ruiz at Musical Arts Center. Photo Courtesy of IU Opera and Ballet Theater.

A scene from "La Traviata" with Christa Ruiz at Musical Arts Center. Photo Courtesy of IU Opera and Ballet Theater.


A scene from 'La Traviata' at Musical Arts Center. Photo Courtesy of IU Opera and Ballet Theater.

A scene from "La Traviata" at Musical Arts Center. Photo Courtesy of IU Opera and Ballet Theater.


A scene from 'La Traviata' at Musical Arts Center. Photo Courtesy of IU Opera and Ballet Theater.

A scene from "La Traviata" at Musical Arts Center. Photo Courtesy of IU Opera and Ballet Theater.


A scene from 'La Traviata' at Musical Arts Center. Photo Courtesy of IU Opera and Ballet Theater.

A scene from "La Traviata" at Musical Arts Center. Photo Courtesy of IU Opera and Ballet Theater.


A scene from 'La Traviata' at Musical Arts Center. Photo Courtesy of IU Opera and Ballet Theater.

A scene from "La Traviata" at Musical Arts Center. Photo Courtesy of IU Opera and Ballet Theater.

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