All photos © Ken Howard 2001

LA Opera's "La Traviata" is set in what appears to be an Italian villa. The costumes are spectacular, and the periwigged servants seem to place it around the turn of the century, 1799/1800. The opening party is outdoors on the patio. There's a marble wall, big planters filled with big pink flowers, hanging plants, and a night sky with full moon. It's opulence everywhere. Violetta's introduced to Alfredo, and he's almost like a lap dog. It's like young love as he falls all over her. He talks of love and she gets all gushy. She cherishes her freedom, "moving from joy to joy," but it's really a facade, and she really yearns for love. She's totally contemptuous of the Baron. He's her protector, and she's usually deferential, at least, but not here. All she shows is contempt.

Act 2 is a big panelled room with sort of a lattice background looking out into the garden. Ana Maria Martinez is a healthy, robust Violetta. She coughs a couple of times, but so do I, and I expect to be around for quite some time. When Germont pleads with her to leave Alfredo, she's at the back of the stage and he's addressing the audience from the front. She sings of her illness, but that's Verdi; you see nothing of it anywhere, no faintness, handkerchiefs, nothing. Jorge Laguna's Germont looks about the same age as Violetta and Alfredo. He asks her to leave the love of her life, but it's all sweetness. She sings of her misfortune, but there's not a hint of it in her voice or movement; pensive, maybe, but not a bit of agony or tragedy.

When Alfredo returns, they just zip right through the letter scene. When she leaves, there's no outrage or indignation, only a few tears into a pillow. I don't know if it was the singers or director, but this whole scene had a curious lack of passion. It's almost like they just wanted to get through it.

The second scene, a party supposedly at Flora's house takes place in a brothel. Girls are taking men upstairs for entertainment. The walls are all
red. Big mirrors all around have pictures of nude women, like the insipid paintings of Francois Boucher. All the women have beautiful red gowns, the men all in black formal attire. The dancers come down the stairs and do sort of a fiery gypsy dance. It kind of reminds me of "Carmen," but seems very appropriate here. It's also the highlight of the evening. When Alfredo throws the money at Violetta, she collapses and passes out cold.

The final act is the traditional gloomy room with big bed. There's a fireplace with a nice red glow off to the side. When Violetta rises from the bed, she's still remarkably robust until she gets over to the fireplace and collapses on a chair. Alfredo arrives, they say their good-byes, and she collapses dead in his arms.

This is a young cast everywhere, and it shows everywhere. Sometimes young singers spend so much time and energy learning and practicing their craft, that they don't have time for wild love affairs and broken hearts. When they get on stage they have no experience to draw on. That may be the case here. There also didn't seem to be much guidance from the director. This is the second "La Traviata" I've seen this year, and Opera Santa Barbara was far superior.

All this aside LA Opera's "La Traviata" was still a very entertaining evening. The sound of the orchestra, led by Placido Domingo, and the voices were excellent, and the visuals appealing.



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