’20s ‘Trav’ gets another luscious run at LA Opera

Photo by Robert Millard

It sounds like another modernization gimmick:  set La Traviata, one of Verdi’s most celebrated and beloved operas, in the 1920s?  Pourquoi?  But listening to director and production designer Marta Domingo and the cast talk about the show, it’s clear that the period was carefully chosen, with strong reasoning behind both selection and execution.  After the horrors of modern warfare first experienced during World War I, young people were ready to live for the moment, and as Cole Porter wrote a little later, “Anything Goes”.  Prohibition made everything forbidden, as alcohol bans were just one symptom of a rising tide of sanctimony.  And the reactions were extreme, taking fashion in opposite directions from pre-war rules:  heavy makeup and slim costumes (with almost no underwear) became the must-have of the day.

It’s a very lush, logical setting for the decadence of Violetta’s world, and a welcome excuse for some seriously gorgeous costumes and set design.  The company has even arranged for a vintage 1929 Chrysler, complete with chauffeur, to set the mood, pulling it across the stage with a tiny little cable.  (Laws prevent the fully functional vehicle from being driven onstage. But the illusion works well.) Ms. Domingo’s thoughts on the period setting (available as an interview in the online program) are unusually fascinating, as she places the story in this historical context for very specific, well-pondered reasons, even down to the decision to trot out automotive history onstage:  more than mere “because we can” flashiness, the car represents mobility, class distinctions and even the increasing sexual freedom of the era — cars gave rich kids a place to play.

Domingo and her family have long been heavily involved with LA Opera.  You may have heard of her hubby, Plácido, who is LAO’s general director and plays Germont the elder in this production.  (How many tenors get to play Alfredo and then go on to play his baritone father?)  But Marta Domingo’s own career as a performer serve her well here, and she is acclaimed by cast members as being particularly attuned to their needs:  “there’s a level of sensitivity to what must be done in performance that can make a marked difference in the rehearsal experience”, says soprano Nino Machaidze (Violetta).

Setpiece and Violetta from LAO's 2006 production of 'La Traviata'
Setpiece and Violetta from LAO’s 2006 production of La Traviata.  Photo by Robert Millard

Machaidze and her onstage paramour seem genuinely excited to be here:  tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz (Alfredo) is equally touched to be playing his role with Plácido as his father, as the elder statesman has been a mentor to him, both directly (he won Domingo’s Operalia competition in 2005) and indirectly — he tells of having worn shoes in one role that were previously worn by Domingo.  “They were a little big, but I made them work.”  It’s clearly all in the family.

Do take a bit and read the notes before you go (or even if you don’t).  In addition to the interview mentioned above, the program includes a short piece by conductor James Conlon, placing ‘Traviata’ (1853) in context within Verdi’s oeuvre.  He raises some thought-provoking points about the opera’s differences from Rigoletto (1851) and Il Trovatore, which premiered just two months before Violetta’s tale came to the stage.  Conlon also draws parallels between the main characters in each of the three masterworks, and illuminates the courage and human understanding Verdi displayed in his handling of this story.  This is a show where the homework is well worth the effort.  Here’s the link again.

Verdi’s La Traviata at LA Opera

  • Sat, Sept 13, 2014, 6pm
  • Wed, Sept 17, 2014, 7:30pm
  • Fri, Sept 19, 2014 8pm
  • Sun, Sept 21, 2014, 02:00 PM
  • Tues, Sept 23, 2014, 7:30pm
  • Fri, Sept 26, 2014, 7:30pm
  • Sun, Sept 28, 2014, 2pm

Learn more about the production  and get tickets on LA Opera’s website

One more major innovation

Thanks to L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, this production will be filmed in an eight-camera shoot and live-broadcast to the Santa Monica Pier on September 17, with ‘Opera at the Beach’ as part of LAO’s Off Grand initiative.  Tickets are free, but you can bet they’ll disappear quickly, if they haven’t already.  Check it out here.



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