Storytelling school

The MET chooses traditional storytelling – The Durango Herald

Stephen Costello plays the role of Alfredo and Nadine Sierra is Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata”. (Marty Sohl/Met Opera)

Verdi plus Mayer plus Sierra equals a memorable ‘Traviata’

The one with the big bed, not the big clock.

Forgive me, but the above reference is a shorthand for the last two Metropolitan Opera Live HD productions of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” In 2017, local opera fans saw director Willy Decker’s minimalist, hyper-modern version with its dark stage and gigantic clock to remind us that time flies. The following year, the Met returned to traditional storytelling with Michael Mayer’s lavish 17th-century Parisian digs and costumes. Instead of a large clock, Mayer emphasized a courtesan’s bedroom where a swirling party bustles in Act 1.

Devoted Durangoans have seen both versions and can be relieved to know that Mayer’s frilly concept is back. The MET Live HD production of the world’s most performed opera will air beginning at 10:55 a.m. Saturday at the college.

“La Traviata” (The Fallen Woman) is the name of Verdi’s sumptuous opera of 1853. In 1851 he visited Paris and made a point of seeing “La Dame aux Camélias”, an extremely popular play by Alexandre Dumas fils which also wrote the bestselling novel. Inspired by a contemporary story about Marie Duplessis, a high-class prostitute from poverty, Dumas detailed her rise and fall as the toast of Paris. Duplessis died in February 1847 at the age of 23. In the novel, the play and the opera, she is transformed into the vibrant Violetta who succumbs to the scourge of the time, tuberculosis.

WHAT: Verdi’s “La Traviata”, the MET live in HD.

WHEN: 10:55 a.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Vallecito Hall, Fort Lewis College Student Union, 1000 Rim Drive.

ADMISSION: Individual tickets: Adults $28, Seniors $25, Met Member $24, Students $12.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.metopera.org and www.durangoconcerts.com, call 247-7657.

REMARK: Sung in Italian with English subtitles. Duration three hours, two intermissions.

By all accounts, Verdi was moved by the story and his enormous popularity in France. Upon his return to Italy, he completed his work in progress, “Trovatore”, and immediately began sketching a new opera. He temporarily titled it: “Violetta”, which evolved into “La Traviata”.

Like Dumas, Verdi saw history as indicative of the times, with post-Napoleonic France indulging in all forms of hedonism encouraged by a growing bourgeoisie. But Verdi’s Venetian opera, La Fenice, saw otherwise and turned contemporaneity on its head for a 17th-century setting. His bosses also shod an aging diva for the wan, young Violetta. When it premiered on March 6, 1853, “La Traviata” opened to mixed results, cheers for Act I, boos and boredom for the rest. Thus, Verdi embarked on revisions. The next day he wrote to a friend: “Last night was a failure. Was the fault mine or the singers? Time will tell us.”

Rewriting and reworking followed, and on February 1, 1855, the opera resurfaced to acclaim – in Madrid, Vienna and Barcelona. He was extremely popular despite being dogged by charges of immorality. To this day, “Traviata” is part of the repertoire of all major companies. The Met opened in 1883 with “Traviata” and staged it more than 1,000 times.

In 2013, “Traviata” overtook “Carmen” as the most popular opera performed in the world.

Saturday’s live performance stars Nadine Sierra as Violetta, one of three sopranos who will be touring this season. Tenor Stephen Costello will sing Alfredo, Violetta’s young lover, and baritone Luca Salsi will sing the unforgettable role of Germont, Alfredo’s father. He and Violetta share a long scene together, a heated confrontation between two points of view.

The real miracle of “Traviata” is that Verdi pulls together all the threads to turn high romanticism into heartbreaking realism.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.