Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until March 22nd
by Ed Farolan
A Bulgarian Soprano, a Chinese Tenor, and a black American conductor make up the stars of this multi-racial, international team of La Traviata which opened last March 13th here in Vancouver. Who says that Opera is a European affair? We're ending the nineties and beginning the new millenium in a few months, and our puny world called earth has finally become the melting pot planet of the universe.
This indeed was a grand opera with its delightful singing, particularly by diva Darina Takova, and the visually impressive sets designed by Bernard Uzan and Claude Girard. Takova, who makes her Canadian debut, was splendid as the demimonde courtesan Violetta Valery. Her stage presence, enhanced by her natural passion for singing, brought waves of approval from this opening night Vancouver audience. As soon as the opera ended, she came for her bow, and she received a warm standing ovation from a jam-packed crowd of opera lovers. I could see from her smile that she was happy with her performance. Shanghai-born tenor Jianyi Zhang was also admirable in his performance as Alfredo Germont, but , in my view, he lacked the passion that Takova exuded.
American baritone David Okerlund as Alfredo's father did his role as expected, but I found the first part of the second act dragging as he demands from Violetta to give up his son for the sake of the Germont family honour. Whether I was just tired, or whether Verdi meant this scene to be a restful one for the audience I don't know.
I was also delighted to see flamenco dancer Rosario Ancer with her troupe of matadores put a little comic relief at the end of the second act. I was hoping she would have done a little bit more of flamenco dancing with her troupe, but I suppose she wasn't there to steal the show from the main characters.
La Traviata bombed at its first performance at Teatro La Fenice in Venice on March 6, 1853 because the soprano who played the heroine was overweight and, obviously, not credible enough to be a victim of a tragic death by consumption. However, when Spanish-born Adelina Patti took on the role at La Scala in 1893, tickets were sold on the black market for outrageous prices. I could imagine that she probably was as attractive and delightful as Takova.
Verdi adapted this poignant tragedy from the semi-fictional account of La dame aux camelias by French novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas fils who fell in love with Maria Duplessis, a beautiful Parisian demi-mondaine who died of tuberculosis at the age of 22. She died on February 3, 1847 and lies today at the Montmartre cemetery, where her tomb has a sculpted bouquet of camellias.