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La Traviata

One of Giuseppe Verdi's most beloved tragedies returns to Central City Opera to open its 83rd season. First performed in 1853, La Traviata (The Fallen Woman) tells us a lot, through the eyes of Violetta Valéry (Ellie Dehn), about the subjugation and emancipation of women in the past 162 years. Much like George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession, we see an unmarried woman living an independent life, succeeding in one of the few endeavors—a courtesan—available to her outside of marriage.

Verdi originally set the story (drawn from Alexander Dumas fils' The Lady of the Camellias, based on Marie Duplessis, the real-life lover of the author) in the present, to which the censors objected, forcing Verdi and librettist Francesco Maria Piave to place the action in the 17th century "in the era of Richelieu," though it was later returned to its original mid-nineteenth century period. Today, we still see this same denial regarding the treatment of women in almost every culture, making La Traviata as meaningful as the day it was written.

Ellie Dehn as Violetta Valéry
Ellie Dehn as Violetta Valéry
Photo: Amanda Tipton
Right from the top, at one of Violetta's opulent parties, where she entertains noblemen and other wealthy male clients, Dehn's lovely soprano opens right up, drawing us into a life of pleasure and merriment. Strong work from the chorus (Adam Turner, chorus master) and lovely costumes (original costume designer, Alice Marie Kugler Bristow, with additional costume designs by Bettina P. Bierly, with new Violetta dress and bodices built by Utah Opera Costume Shop) make for a rousing opening number.

Ellie Dehn as Violetta Valéry and Ryan MacPherson as Alfredo Germont
Ellie Dehn as Violetta Valéry
and Ryan MacPherson as Alfredo Germont
Photo: Amanda Tipton
As the party continues, Violetta is introduced to Alfredo Germont (Ryan MacPherson), whom she learns called every day during her recent illness and is sweet on her. Violetta wonders if he is really in love with her. Alfredo is called up to offer a toast and MacPherson thrills us with a spirited rendition of a famous brindisi ("Libiamo ne' lieti calici"). Violetta and Alfredo converse, making lovely music together (Dehn's coloratura and trills are a treat), and she is left taking Alfredo's passion seriously. The first intermission follows, thank goodness, for we are in search of libations, as Violetta and Alfredo recommend, to celebrate the breathtaking scope of Act I.

Troy Cook as Giorgio Germont
and Ellie Dehn as Violetta Valéry
Photo: Amanda Tipton
The epic arc of the tale continues to climb, as Act II opens at a villa in the countryside outside of Paris, with Violetta and Alfredo awash in love, but the idyll is short-lived: Alfredo is ashamed to learn that Violetta has been selling her possessions to support them, and he leaves for Paris to draw from his accounts to pay her back; but it gets worse, as Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont (Troy Cook) arrives and asks Violetta to abandon her relationship with Alfredo, as it is preventing Alfredo's sister from marrying. Cook's sonorous baritone underscores the authoritarian air to Germont's pleadings, and Violetta succumbs to the class imperatives and gender prejudices being drawn, during which they share a soulful lamentation. Germont swears Violetta to secrecy regarding the real reason she is breaking up with Alfredo, which leads to Alfredo's enragement, which his father is unable to quell, in another rich aria from Cook.

Ryan MacPherson as Alfredo Germont, Ellie Dehn as Violetta Valéry, and Ensemble
Ryan MacPherson as Alfredo Germont,
Ellie Dehn as Violetta Valéry,
and Ensemble
Photo: Amanda Tipton
Act III follows a short (three-minute) intermission. Violetta's friend, Flora (Molly Jane Hill), is throwing a party at which conflicts abound: Alfredo is seeking revenge, because he believes that Violetta was stringing him along; Violetta is accompanied by the Baron (Andy Berry), who resents Alfredo for taking her away from him in the first place; and Germont is there to try to defuse his son's anger and shield Violetta from an unseemly confrontation.

Before the interpersonal fireworks begin, a couple of fun divertissements—a chorus of gypsies mingle with the guests and read palms, followed by a group of masked matadors, who strut their stuff—add to the festivities. Then the Baron challenges Alfredo to a card gambling match, which Alfredo wins, and the crowd exits to dinner, leaving Alfredo alone when Violetta comes to warn him that the Baron is going to challenge him to a duel. But Alfredo is too enraged to consider Violetta's legitimate concern and suppressed attachment. After attempting to shame Violetta, Alfredo is chastized by his father. Despite all this, Violetta declares her love for Alfredo, and tells him the time will come when he realizes her sacrifice, during which we are once again treated to a lovely aria from Dehn.

Ryan MacPherson as Alfredo Germont, Ellie Dehn as Violetta Valéry, and Troy Cook as Giorgio Germon
Ryan MacPherson as Alfredo Germont,
Ellie Dehn as Violetta Valéry,
and Troy Cook as Giorgio Germon
Photo: Amanda Tipton
All this takes a toll on Violetta, whose illness returns in Act IV, and we find her life slipping away in her bedroom in a modest apartment. Dr. Grenvil (Adelmo Guidarelli) tells the maid, Annina (Jin-Xiang JX Yu), that the end is only hours away. To the melody of Alfredo's love song, Violetta reads a note from Germont explaining that the Baron was wounded in the duel and that Alfredo is now aware of the truth of Violetta's sacrifice and that his is on his way to apologize to her. Yet, that was days ago, and still Alfredo has not arrived. She sings a sweet farewell to her smiling daydreams of the past, providing us with one last beautiful aria from Dehn. Finally, the stage is set for the great tragic ending, where words of love flow once again, in a beautiful series of duets and solos featuring Dehn, MacPherson, and Cook (Germont realizes the harm he's done), before a heavenly vision engulfs Violetta, as she leaves the mortal plane.

Maestro John Baril and the festival orchestra deliver an exquisite rendition of Verdi's fabulous melodies. Peter Harrison's simple, yet elegant settings bring grandeur to this enduring tragedy.

Central City Opera's presentation of La Traviata runs through Saturday, August 8th. For tickets: 303-292-6700 or centralcityopera.org.

Bob Bows

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