Heidi Fleiss With Class

Opera Pacifics La Traviata sells the seamy side of life

Courtesy Opera PacificMost of us know LaTraviatafor its foreshadowing, as the opera Julia Roberts watched in PrettyWoman, back when she was all long limbs, white teeth and high-pitched laughter. Lucky for us, Opera Pacific is about to reprise the famous Dumas-play-turned-opera about a courtesan with consumption and her nobleman lover by Giuseppe Verdi. A guaranteed tearjerker for audiences—only PrettyWomandiverged from the traditional storyline—the tragedy never seems to go out of style. Remember Baz Luhrmann's MoulinRouge?

Centered on Violetta Valery, a dreaded, yet dream-come-true role for the soprano, LaTraviatatells the tragic story of a Heidi Fleiss-with-class who gives up her lover in order to do the right thing.

"It's really a night for Violetta (Dina Kuznetsova and Jennifer Welch-Babidge)," tenor Richard Troxell says.

"And sopranos always seem to have a yen for the role. It's beautiful music, emotion, drama, you wear great costumes; she gets to be pretty and then she gets to die," one soprano explained to me. Earning the right to die is quite coveted in the opera arena.

As for Troxell, in the male role of Alfredo Germont, it's all about the athletic prowess. "It's the ultimate way to use your voice at its highest level. There is no faking," he says. "We do not use microphones. It's visceral. It's raw. It's risky."

I recommend listening to the music a couple of times to put you in the picture before going to see an opera; that way you can approach the production much like a sporting event. Will they go for the triple lutz? Will the door be opened? Opera dorks have even been known to count the number of high Cs beforehand and then wait to see if the singer delivers. "There is this sense of vocal gymnastics: Are you going to sing the C?" Troxell says, confessing, "In this opera there is one E. People just don't [sing it]. I don't either."

He knows us: we're like vultures, waiting to see if the singer teeters off the edge into a harmonic, groaning crack or makes the note literally fall flat. Not because it could happen—because it does happen. I once heard a LaTraviatatenor in Italy make a noise like a whistle.

For those who want to see and hear it happen up close, Opera Pacific introduces "Opera in the Raw," a stripped-down version of LaTraviataas bloodthirsty as its title. Accompanied by piano and dressed casually, the singers perform a shortened version of the opera and answer questions at the end, allowing for a more intimate experience. "It's a great way to introduce opera," Troxell says. "You can get to the essence of the opera. We are singing the music and the emotion."

Where opera's concerned, Verdi all but invented emotion. Too bad he's dead—he'd definitely make my dinner-party list: flamboyant enough to be entertaining, endearingly suspicious of authority, and obsessed with extravagant plots, foreign subjects and Romantic melodramas. But then, in Orange County, he'd be on everyone's dinner-party list—and with an opera about an investment banker and a prostitute on his résumé, he could even run for sheriff.

LA TRAVIATA, SEGERSTROM HALL, ORANGE COUNTY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 600 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA. TUES., THURS., & SAT., 7:30 P.M., SUN., 2 P.M. $35-$185; OPERA IN THE RAW, FOUNDERS HALL, ORANGE COUNTY PERFORMING ARTS CETNER, 600 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA. WED., 8 P.M. $48. TICKETS: 1-800-34-OPERA (1-800-346-7372) OR AT THE BOX OFFICE, OR AT WWW.OPERAPACIFIC.ORG.

 
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