Minutes into Cincinnati Opera’s production of “La Traviata,” I could see at least part of their motivation for choosing this opera to kick off their return to Music Hall. Giuseppe Verdi’s 1853 work begins with “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici (Let’s drink from the joyful cups),” which may be the most well-known brindisi ever written. It’s a toast to love and beauty, proposed in honor of Violetta, the host of a lavish party, by Alfredo, a guest who has long admired her from afar. The toast could easily be interpreted, in this case, as a toast to the beautifully restored venue.
Cincinnati Opera revels in the beauty of this landmark. The set for “La Traviata” is absolutely stunning: gorgeously detailed, grandiose pieces tower over the stage, with hints of impressionist design that tie together a perfect evocation of 19th-Century Paris. The sound is remarkably controlled — on several occasions, an unseen party spills muted music and cheers onto the stage, where Violetta and Alfredo share a private moment that feels infinitely more intimate as a result. In short, Cincinnati Opera is showing complete mastery over their new digs right from the get-go.
“La Traviata,” or “The Fallen Woman,” is the story of a glamorous courtesan who falls in love with a young bourgeois from a provincial family. She moves with him to the countryside, where they live happily until Alfredo’s father, Germont, visits Violetta and asks her to leave his son. Germont’s daughter, he explains, wants to marry someone who refuses so long as a courtesan is associated with the family. Violetta agrees, revealing that she is dying of consumption in a heartbreaking duet. She returns to Paris and an old lover, Baron Douphol. This being a classic opera, you can imagine what happens next: Alfredo passionately denounces Violetta at a party (after an outstanding performance by a group of visiting matadors) and the Baron challenges him to a duel.
We later learn that the Baron was wounded but is recovering, while Violetta’s friends have abandoned her and she has lost all of her money. A doctor tells her maid that Violetta has only hours to live. Violetta’s aria, “Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti (Farewell, lovely, happy dreams of the past),” is stunning. Norah Amsellem’s voice commands the passion of all who hear it, which makes her a perfect fit for the role. To see her strength brought to despair and so elegantly rendered through music is incredibly moving. Even as the weight of her illness and broken heart forces her to the ground and her voice grows thin, there are hints of robust strength within it.
Ji-Min Park as Alfredo is another perfect fit. He begins by approaching everything with a determined, youthful, energetic optimism. It’s only after Violetta leaves him that his gleeful passion turns to jealousy, and you can both feel and hear his loss of faith as the story progresses. Finally, as he returns to Violetta in her last moments, the light returns to him, if only briefly. When she dies in his arms (this is a classic opera, after all), Park’s speechless expression leaves you wondering how damaged he will be.
See Cincinnati Opera’s production of “La Traviata” on June 16, 20, or 22 at Music Hall. You couldn’t ask for a better celebration of their return.
Zach Moning is the communications manager at ArtsWave. Reach him here with questions or comments about ArtsWave Guide.