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San Diego Opera Stages A Roaring ‘20s ‘La Traviata’

But epic tale of love works in any era

Credit: J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson.

Above: Violetta (Corrine Winters) unexpectedly falls in love with Alfredo (Jesus Garcia) in San Diego Opera's "La Traviata."

GUESTS:

Corrine Winters, soprano, 'La Traviata'

Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter

Transcript

"La Traviata" is an epic tale of love that is perfectly suited to the scale of opera, and San Diego Opera serves up a Roaring '20s version.

The story of Violetta, a beautiful, free-spirited courtesan who falls for Alfredo, a proper young gentleman, and then pays dearly for her passions is the kind of operatic material that can capture a child’s imagination.

"When I was a young girl, the first time I went I was shocked. I loved it so much, the passions, I started going to opera very young when I was eight," said Marta Domingo, who directs San Diego Opera's current production of "La Traviata."

San Diego Opera Stages Roaring 20s 'La Traviata'

She has taken Verdi’s 19th century opera and transplanted it to America in the Roaring '20s.

"And it works perfectly because you have the flappers, which are absolutely fabulous women. They are totally liberated, they have a mind of their own, and because of the consequences of the first world war they have faced death and sadness so they wanted to enjoy life every day because it might be the last one. So they didn’t think in the future, they just enjoy today and that was ideal very much like 1850s in France," Domingo explained.

Soprano Corrine Winters sings the role of Violetta.

"I love the '20s, I love that era for fashion, for arts, for the sentiment because it was after the First World War and everyone just wanted to enjoy life and the sensual pleasures of life, which is what this piece is about, but it is also about nonconformity, about two people from different backgrounds and different lives finding each other and loving each other and breaking societal boundaries. And I think that is why this period works so well," Winters said.

Tenor Jesus Garcia plays the object of Violetta’s passions, Alfredo.

"It’s one of those archetypal love stories that works no matter what time period it’s set in," Garcia said. "People fall in love, extenuating circumstances force them to separate even though they still long to be together then they get together in the end just in time for one of them to die. It’s just one of those stories that gets people’s heartstrings."

That’s not entirely a spoiler.

"La Traviata" is based on Alexander Dumas’ classic novel "The Lady of the Camillias" that was made into the popular movie "Camille" in which Greta Garbo died so famously. For the opera, Camille is transformed into Violetta.

"Violetta is a courtesan and that’s important in terms of the time period because she was not just a prostitute, she was a woman of high society who was well spoken and educated, very desired and not just for her looks but for her mind and her personality," Winters said.

But then she falls for a younger man who is far less worldly then her. He is also from a respectable family and, against her better instincts, Violetta allows herself to fall in love.

Perhaps that is why the opera found a place in the movie "Pretty Woman" where Violetta’s story moves Julia Roberts’ character to tears. The opera provides the soundtrack for the movie at that point and Garcia says that’s a good way to think about the music in an opera as providing the emotional score to a story.

"I once had a director say that the music is the secret that only the audience hears," Garcia said. "That the people onstage don’t know they are singing you are just living a life and it is coming out as music. I think it’s cool to go into an opera with that kind of perspective."

Domingo came up with the idea of having a jazz band onstage during a party scene.

"You will see how well it fits. The rhythm, then you will see the dancers. I’m not having any Spanish dancers here," Domingo said.

Credit: J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson.

One of Demètre H. Chiparus's statues compared to the costume design for the dancers in "La Traviata."

Instead they will be dancers inspired by art deco ivory and bronze statues.

"The skin is ivory and the dresses is made of bronze so that’s what I did for the dancers in the third act," Domingo said.

A key moment in that act is when Alfredo disgraces Violetta in front of high society.

"It’s kind of a rip roaring mad scene for Alfredo and as an actor that’s exciting to play," Garcia said.

For Winters, it was the vocal challenges of playing Violetta that was exciting.

"It requires everything from the voice, just a color palette to show all the emotions, and vocally it’s one of the most challenging roles," Winters explained.

And it’s the voice that makes opera unique.

"The most important thing about opera is the power of the unamplified human voice," Winters said. You are hearing a voice without a microphone in a large opera hall and you are hearing it resonate off the human body, off the bones in the face and the acoustic of the room is making it resonate. It’s incredible, it’s an athletic feat we do and I think people’s lives are changed when they hear high quality singing to hear a voice resonating so powerfully in a large hall I think as my dad say, it changes the molecules in your body."

Get ready for your molecular transformation as San Diego Opera closes out its current season with Verdi’s "La Traviata."

"La Traviata" has four performances starting this Saturday and running through April 30.

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