DETROIT - In this, the 100th anniversary year of the death of Giuseppe Verdi, opera companies around the world are honoring the great composer with a wealth of concerts and staged productions. Michigan Opera Theatre, which opened its spring season last weekend in the Detroit Opera House, is dedicating two of its three productions to Verdi. La Traviata runs through this weekend, and Verdi's final opera, the comic masterpiece Falstaff, runs May 12-20.
Written in a period of extraordinary output that within a couple of years also produced Rigoletto and Il Trovatore, La Traviata is loved today for its wealth of melody and emotional intensity.
Set in Paris, the opera tells the story of courtesan Violetta Valery, who is la traviata or the “fallen one.” It was risky business in 1853 to set up an honorable high-society call girl as operatic heroine, but Verdi, who spent much of his life struggling against his own time's repressive social conventions, was not about to spurn a good story.
Instead, he turned this one, originally conceived by Alexandre Dumas, into a great opera.
Briefly, the story is thus. When Violetta, against her better judgment, falls in love with her young admirer Alfredo, she suspects there will be hell to pay for the relationship. And there is. Soon Alfredo's indignant father, Germont, interrupts their country hideaway and convinces Violetta that she must leave Alfredo for the sake of his family. Noble in ways that the old man is not, Violetta does. And that is where the hell to pay comes in. After much individual suffering, the two lovers are not again reconciled until moments before Violetta's death.
Naturally, all these happenings are set to gorgeous music which is led vivaciously and lovingly by conductor Giuliano Carella. On Sunday afternoon, Michigan Opera Theatre singers and orchestra put their collective best foot forward, presenting, in all regards, a fine production.
Rich-voiced soprano Nicolle Foland's Violetta was a most empathetic character. Well received, but perhaps a bit cautious in the opening act, Foland continued to relax her guard while simultaneously expanding her emotive circle as the afternoon progressed. Ultimately she seemed quite comfortable, both vocally and emotionally, in this larger-than-life role.
Theodore Green's Alfredo was nearly as successful. Blest with a healthy light tenor voice, Green only rarely stepped into the all-too-common tenor red zone in which too much sound means less quality. If there was any problem with the casting of these two roles, it was that Green's still youthful voice was occasionally overwhelmed by the richer maturity of Foland's. Individually, both were fine.
Baritone Christopher Robertson was splendid as Alfredo's straight-laced father.
In an afternoon of vocal strengths, the well-rehearsed chorus shone as well.
The production's sets and scenery - mostly created with large cloths - were simple, but elegant. Lighting, particularly the scarlet hues that dominated the Act 2 party scene in which Alfredo attempts to publicly humiliate Violetta, were used to great effect.
If the production had any disappointment, it was to be found in the bland choreography for the Act II gypsy chorus and ensuing ballet scene.
Michigan Opera Theatre will present “La Traviata” at 8 p.m. tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway. Casting for Violetta alternates between Foland and Susan Patterson. Casting for Alfredo alternates between Green and Misha Didyk. Tickets run from $18 to $98. Information: 313-237-7464.