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Carol Jean Delmar On Opera—Marta Domingo’s Updated ‘La Traviata’ Gets Better With Age

Adela Zaharia as Violetta and Rame Lahaj as Alfredo in LA Opera’s 2019 production of "La Traviata." Photo by Ken Howard
Vitaliy Bilyy as Giorgio Germont and Adela Zaharia as Violetta in LA Opera’s 2019 production of La Traviata. Photo by Ken Howard

Posted Tuesday, June 4, 2019 - 7:46 pm

I have seen Marta Domingo’s Art Deco Los Angeles Opera production of La Traviata a number of times now, and it works.

I may be an old-fashioned kind of girl who loves the older versions, like the LA Opera revival in 2006 starring Renée Fleming, but this updated version to the 1920s makes sense, fits, and respects the composer’s music. It is in keeping with today’s worldwide need to modernize everything in society to keep up with modern technology. But this production does not hit you over the head with crazy new elements like cartoon characters or high-tech projections. It tells the old story which was set in the 1800s but has often been staged back to the 1700s; however, instead of being about a French courtesan or “demimondaine,” Marta Domingo has made the story about a party girl during the flapper era.

I have roamed from Beverlywood to the Music Center a number of times to see this production, and each time, it gets better. More kinks are removed with each run, and the production has been fine-tuned with colorful sets and costumes that dazzle the eye.

Patterned after the real Marie Duplessis who became Marguerite Gautier in Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux Camélias and Violetta Valéry in Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, Violetta in the original opera is a French courtesan with beauty and class. Alfredo Germont meets, falls in love with her, and soon lives with her in a cottage on the French countryside. Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, cannot fathom the idea that his son is cohabitating with a “demimondaine.” He explains to Violetta that her scandalous affair with his son will affect his daughter’s wedding plans and urges her to leave him.

At first, Violetta is unwilling, then consents to honor Giorgio’s wishes. Since she cannot tell Alfredo the true reason for her departure, he scorns her at a party hosted by their friend, Flora. Ridden with guilt while Violetta is dying, Giorgio tells Alfredo the truth, and the two make their way to Violetta’s residence. The two lovers are reunited, but it is too late.

In Marta Domingo’s version, the party-like gathering in the first act is during the Roaring Twenties. Not only are the costumes and sets updated, but so are the reactions between the women and men. The flirting between Violetta and Alfredo is more overt, modern and blunt than what occurs in the traditional setting of the opera, which is more subtle. The libretto by Francesco Maria Piave does not change from one production to the other, but the tone or acting of the singing dialogue does.

Alfredo (Rame Lahaj through June 13) sings a drinking song and flirts with Violetta while singing Un dì, felice, eterea. Violetta (Adela Zaharia) sings Ah, fors’è lui which flowers into the famous Sempre libera aria, Ever Free.

The first scene is cleverly staged with a large vintage automobile driven onstage. I don’t like its intrusiveness, but it does set the period with a jolt.

The sets allow us to suspend our imagination. We see an inside room with the stars glistening behind it without a wall or window dividing them. I love the poetic creativity and the exactitude of every element of this production.

With a glitzy discotheque-type glimmering chandelier hanging from above and the dazzling costumes and Art Deco setting,  Flora’s party scene keeps the audience wide-eyed and watching. The dancing is well-choreographed by Kitty McNamee and enacted by dancers including Breanne Wilson and Louis A. Williams, Jr.

Flora (Peabody Southwell) becomes a significant character in a scene that rarely focuses on anyone but Alfredo, Violetta, and the scenery and spectacle.

Violetta sings a heartfelt Addio, del passato toward the end of the opera so that we in the audience hope that Alfredo makes it in time. Accomplished lyric tenor Charles Castronovo will be her Alfredo after June 13. Baritones Vitaliy Bilyy and Igor Golovatenko share the role of the elder Germont.

The ensemble includes Christopher Job as Doctor Grenvil, Erica Petrocelli as Annina, Juan Carlos Heredia as Marquis d’Obigny, Alok Kumar as Gastone and Wayne Tigges as Baron Douphol.

Marta Domingo has directed and designed the production and costumes with detailed blocking and specific actions for the singers so that they have developed characterizations. As the wife of great tenor Plácido Domingo, who is the general director of LA Opera, she has had the luxury of time to perfect every aspect of this production so that it is near perfection. A number of the singers have placed in her husband’s Operalia competition. He is nurturing their careers and appropriate casting.

Conductor James Conlon’s energy as the company’s music director always motivates the orchestra while he maintains a sensitivity toward the singers that few conductors can equal.

I recommend that people see and hear this production at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion downtown and then rate it for themselves. It is a unique and classic production of a classic opera, a must-see for those over the age of 16 to learn about opera, and for those who have loved this opera their whole lives long as I have.

Performances continue in the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., at 7:30 p.m. on June 13, 19 and 22; and at 2 p.m. on June 9 and 16. 213-972-9001. www.LAOpera.org.

Carol Jean Delmar writes about opera and theatre. She was a resident of Beverlywood for more than 50 years and is the author of “Serenade: A Memoir of Music and Love from Vienna and Prague to Los Angeles.”

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