BWW Reviews: Opera in the Height's LA TRAVIATA is Engrossing
When it comes to classic opera, Giuseppe Verdi is one of the most prominent composers. LA TRAVIATA is based La dame aux Camélias, a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, and had its world premiere on March 6, 1853. Guiseppe Verdi was displeased that the authorities at La Fenice insisted that the opera be set circa 1700. Additionally, Fanny Salvini-Donatelli playing the female lead upset the opening night audience because they felt she was too old and too overweight to play a young woman dying of consumption. Despite these hiccups, the opera is immensely popular and according to Operabase, it was the most produced opera in the 2012-13 season.
Houston's Opera in the Height's (OH!) is currently producing a radiant production of the classic opera. Guiseppe Verdi's vision for the opera was a contemporary setting, something that wouldn't be granted to the show until the 1880s. Following these wishes, OH! has set their production in 2013. The sets, costumes, and props all embrace the modern approach. The color palette for the set is black, white, and silver. Whether the costumes are the fancy regalia worn by opening night audiences or the jeans and t-shirts worn by many on a daily basis, each piece of clothing looks like something that was just purchased.
Stage Direction by Lynda Keith McKnight and Artistic Direction/Conducting by Maestro Enrique Carreón-Robledo keeps LA TRAVIATA engrossing. Even though the classic story holds no surprises for audiences in 2013, this production still feels fresh. None of the four scenes drag. Each one is interestingly staged, well acted, and beautifully sung. Likewise, the emotionality of the music being played by the instrumentalists and sung by the vocalists is moving and affecting. Despite knowing that Violetta Valéry will die from complications brought on by tuberculosis, our hearts break for her and the sense of tragedy brought about by her death. For OH!'s opening night, Sara Heaton is remarkable as Violetta. Her sumptuous soprano instrument impressed me with how powerful it was while still being soft and sweet. Her ample vocal control brings about a surprisingly weighty magnitude to her upper register that makes it clean and crisp while simultaneously being airy and lithe. Each of the numbers she sings is stirring and lovely, especially her rendition of "Follie! Delirio vano è questo!... Sempre libera."
Singing Alfredo, Steven Wallace's brilliantly vibrant tenor voice excellently accompanies Sara Heaton. He masters the requisite tonal brightness that Guiseppe Verdi's score calls for, imbuing his character with a realistic and charming innocence that comes from his growing up wealthy.
The remainder of the cast fills the stage and Giuseppe Verdi's opulent chords with artful precision. Standouts include Annina brought to sparkling life by Lisa Borik's sublime soprano voice, baritone Octavio Moreno's delightful rich depth as Germont, and alto Megan Berti as the flirty and fun-loving Flora. Across the entire chorus and principal cast, no one voice is out of place, making the production all the more magical despite the oppressive heat that the cast, audience, and orchestra alike were battling. Just as things went wrong for the world premiere, OH! had to contend with an electricity shortage during the day that left Lambert Hall without air conditioning during the day and uncomfortably hot during the performance.
When it comes to opera, Houstonians have more options than most to get their fill of the art form. Unlike other large cities, we have two companies that professionally and consistently deliver wonderful performances. Sadly, across the nation, the art form is losing ground and dying out. Recently, the New York City Opera, often called the "People's Opera," announced its closing. With news like this circulating the interwebs, I implore Houstonians to attend performances by OH!. You won't be disappointed, and you'll help ensure that others can enjoy this art form in the future.
Running Time: 3 hours with 2 intermissions.
LA TRAVIATA, produced by Opera in the Heights, plays Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights Boulevard, Houston, 77008 now through October 13, 2013. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. For more information and tickets, please visit http://operaintheheights.org or call (713) 861-5303.
Photos Gwen Turner Juarez. Photos courtesy of Opera in the Heights.
Sara Heaton and Steven Wallace
Sara Heaton and Steven Wallace
Daymon Passmore and Steven Wallace with company at gambling table