LA TRAVIATA (Opera Philadelphia): A stunning new design and a stellar new Violetta

Lisette Oropesa

When Giuseppe Verdi’s tragic masterpiece of illicit love, personal redemption, and premature death (libretto by Francesco Maria Piave) debuted at La Fenice in 1853, it was set—as required by the Venetian opera house—in Paris and its environs ca. 1700, in the historic era of Richelieu. But Verdi and Piave expressed the wish for their new work to be staged as a realistic production in a contemporary setting—a preference that was not honored until the 1880s.

Based on the novel and play adaptation of La Dame aux camélias (known in English as Camille) by Alexandre Dumas, fils, the three-act opera tells the story of the titular “fallen woman” Violetta Valéry, a Parisian courtesan and lover of the Baron Douphol, who is pursued and won by the young bourgeois provincial Alfredo Germont. Yielding to social intolerance and familial honor, she sacrifices her own happiness to save the reputation of her true love and his sister, ending their affair but reuniting with him on her deathbed (“a cruel end to love”). Performed in Italian with English supertitles, Opera Philadelphia’s production features soprano Lisette Oropesa—a favorite of New York’s Metropolitan Opera—as Violetta, and Grammy Award-winning tenor Alek Shrader as Alfredo (both making their house and role debuts), with local-born baritone Stephen Powell reprising the role of Alfredo’s father Giorgio. They are supported by strong and animated chorus singers (who performed in September in Andy: A Popera, a Fringe Festival collaboration on Pop artist Andy Warhol by Opera Philadelphia and The Bearded Ladies Cabaret), portraying Violetta’s hedonistic circle of Parisian party-goers and attendants (with an especially witty reference to pop music’s “girl groups” of the mid-20th-century).

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