What a wonderful night at the opera. Sure it has its stigmas, but when you actually get settled in for a two and a half hour performance of un-amplified students belting out Italian it all becomes far more impressive and engaging than impenetrable. All around La traviata’s third night was superb, mixing in stellar lead performances, a lovely but subdued set design, and some of the catchiest music you’ve never heard before for a supremely satisfying experience.
While La traviata was technically my first opera, I’d been told by two of the leads in an interview for the Wildcat Weekend that this particular piece is a perfect opera for the uninitiated to see. It turned out to be an apt prediction. I was hooked from the first act, a downright spectacle veering seamlessly between gigantic crowd/chorus scenes and intimate romantic moments played breathtakingly by leads Yunni Park (playing Violetta) and Humberto Borboa Beltran (playing Alfredo). Park shined throughout, proving herself quite capable of playing both the loving giddiness of Violetta as well as her darker moments. The vocal range required to play Violetta is astounding, and there was scarcely a moment where Park didn’t sound totally in control of her voice. The staging from artistic director Charles Roe enhanced the tenderness of the Violetta/Alfredo scenes, with stunning blocking that brought the large supporting cast off and on stage several times. While Park’s Violetta and Beltran’s Alfredo were clearly stars of the show, credit must be given to the cast at large for propelling their voices so pointedly throughout Crowder Hall. The music written for La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi is wide-ranging, at once familiar in its scales and melodies yet infinitely fascinating to someone not terribly familiar with the music beforehand. Yet no matter how complex the orchestra’s playing became, there was almost always synchronicity between those on stage and those in the pit, all players involved coming together to put on an amazing show.
In addition to the lead performances and the orchestra, this performance of La traviata also made exacting use of its set and costuming, both of which made the show all the more engaging. Each of the four acts featured various combinations of beautifully constructed doors with elaborate frames, not too gaudy but elegant enough to successfully conjure up the opera’s Paris, 1850s setting. Together with the lighting, the stripped down stage arrangement often presented a nice counterpoint to the action of the opera, such as the rich dark blues of the backdrop in Act 4 that, when revealed when a character opens one of the free-standing doors, reflects the grim storm afoot in the heart and failing health of Violetta.
The party scenes of Acts 1 and 3 featured similarly restrained set design, prominently featuring the doors and a few key pieces of furniture such as antique tables and wine glasses strewn about the stage. What truly made these two acts pop was the costuming, with design for that being credited in the playbill to Christopher Allen. From Violetta’s stunning dress as she falls in love with Alfredo to the wild fashions of the visiting gypsies and Spanish matador in Act 3, the costumes were designed with precision and flair enough to warrant their own section in this review. Truly some of the more spectacular work I’ve seen from a production on campus.
Overall La traviata landed in a way I might not have anticipated. Now that I’ve been fully immersed in the opera I can confidently say it’s a thrilling thing to experience live, an event in every sense of the word. There’s nothing quite like sitting the back of a medium-sized auditorium like Crowder Hall and hearing the haunting melodies of your peers reverberating around you on all sides. Sure you could go to the movies and see the Met’s recording of a show, but live opera is undoubtedly one of the more affecting art forms you’re going to find. The U of A is fortunate to have a program as clearly talented as this one.