The Lady of the Camellias comes to Pomona

Verdi’s La Traviata (which translates to The Fallen Woman) is based on the younger Dumas’ novelette, The Lady of the Camellias. It is the story of Violetta, a courtesan who is living a fast and carefree existence in Paris until she falls for Alfredo, an ardent young suitor, and leaves the demi-monde behind for a quiet life in the country. Happiness is not to be, however, as her former life threatens both Alfredo’s career prospects and the proposed marriage of his younger sister. His father, Germont, intervenes and demands that Violetta leave Alfredo without revealing the reason, letting Alfredo believe she has abandoned him to return to her former life and former lover, the Baron Douphol. As he reads her letter to that effect, Alfredo is first horrified, then outraged, and races after her to Paris to avenge himself. The last act is a tragedy of unjust accusations and an untimely death. In Violetta, Verdi and the librettist Piave preserved and intensified Dumas’ sympathetic, fragile heroine.

Party scene in ROC's La Traviata
Franco Rios Castro as the Doctor, Steve Moritsugu as Gaston and Matt Dunn as Alfredo
surounded by members of the chorus in Act 2.

In Repertory Opera Company‘s production of La Traviata, the action opens on a salon in Violetta’s mansion, empty at first but soon growing into a party in full swing. Director Lizbeth Lucca’s strongest asset in this production is her capable, well-rehearsed chorus, to which she entrusts significant dramatic and comedic moments. They carried their responsibilities well, forming a solid backdrop to the action of the principals. This is a repertory company, so many of the choristers have played principal roles in other ROC productions.

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Leslie Dennis as Violetta, Matt Dunn as Alfredo,
in Violetta’s final moments.

Leslie Dennis, in the role of Violetta, entered the stage coughing. She portrayed Violetta’s tuberculosis throughout the show as the progressive disease it is, fortunately without compromising her vocalism. She is a solid, light lyric soprano with previous Traviata productions under her belt, and she sang the difficult coloratura of the first act easily and effectively. Lighter lyrics often have difficulty in the second and third acts with their dramatic demands, not the least of which, in this case, was singing opposite Sang Wook Kwon’s powerful Verdi-baritone in the role of Germont. But Ms. Dennis’ soprano opened up as the evening progressed and she delivered both the lyricism and the drama Verdi demands. Matt Dunn is a tenore di grazia, and delivered his Alfredo with all the nuance and lyricism at his command. His finest moment was the duet in the last act, Parigi, o cara, in which he captured the intimacy and sensitivity of the moment beautifully. The roles of Flora, Gastone, the Marquis, Baron Douphol, the Doctor and Giuseppe were effectively sung by Bonnie Snell Schindler, Steve Moritsugu, Robert Arce, Raul Matas, Franco Rios Castro and Armando Castillo, respectively. Debbie Dey’s Annina was a devoted servant with not much to sing, but what she had, she sang well.

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Franco Rios Castro as the Doctor,
Sang Wook Kwon as Germont.

Brian Farrell, Musical Director, accompanied at the keyboard, performing the difficult magic of turning a percussive instrument into a string orchestra for the overture and giving solid support throughout. He deserves considerable credit for the excellent musical preparation of both the chorus and the principals, along with Kevin Wiley, who was the Chorus Master.

The direction and set design were well-thought-out, as Ms. Lucca placed her primary focus on the dramatic values of the production. There was a constant interplay between the chorus and principals, and blocking was sensitive both to the dramatic action and to the musical requirements, which can occasionally be at odds. Her sense of humor was in evidence in the gypsy dance of the second act, with a nod to Rochelle Firestone, a chorister and physical comedienne who took center stage for a moment, giving us Verdi’s dance number with a little comic relief before the storm to come. Ms. Lucca asked a lot from everyone onstage and generally got it.

The sets were a clever collection of rearrangeable pieces used to achieve convincing settings with a minimum of time and fuss spent in the changes of scene.

All in all, it was an effective and affecting La Traviata.

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