My mother and I went to see the Kentucky Opera Association’s first production of the season, LA TRAVIATA by Giuseppe Verdi. Normally, when it comes to operas with ladies who die, then get up and sing an aria and die again, I can take them or leave them, but KOA has been doin it rite. The last production they did of LA BOHEME, I didn’t want to get up and throttle Mimi, or shout, “Die faster! You aren’t dying fast enough!” It was a wonderful production, and their Mimi’s performance was both musically compelling and dramatically convincing.
So it was with Violetta in La Trav. Elizabeth Futral was just terrific. All of the singers and dancers were great, but Futral and Donnie Ray Albert as Georgio Germont were outstanding.
First Act: Okay, so there’s this party girl named Violetta. She has a terminal illness, and she’s determined to live fast, die young and leave a pretty corpse. The men are all crazy about her, the fact that she has a fatal communicable disease seemingly no drawback. Her “patron”, who finances her lifestyle, didn’t care enough to come visit her during her latest bout with her illness (TB), but young Alfredo, an impetuous blockhead, was there every day. He insists that he loves her. When the party’s over, she grabs a bottle and sings about how life is all about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and how freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose. I’ve always seen Violetta played as a graceful, fairy-like girl, pure in spite of her circumstances. Futral played her with a swagger and a sneer, like Janis Joplin in a ball gown. Fantastic. Perfect. Alfredo’s voice wafts up–or perhaps the memory of his voice.
Violetta: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, I die!
Alfredo: I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Alfredo: I wanna hold your hand!
Violetta: Don’t you step on my blue suede shoes!
Alfredo: All you need is love!
Second act: Violetta leaves The Life to live in the country with Alfredo. After a few months, he tumbles to the fact that SOMEBODY has to be paying the bills and, since it isn’t him, it’s Violetta, who has sold all she has to finance a few months of peace. He rushes off to Paris to get some money. His father comes in and tells Violetta she’s ruining the family name, and he needs her to leave Alfredo for his own good. When he sees she’s willing, he commends her, seeing how hard it is for her and how strong the love and character are that enable her to do it. When Alfredo comes home and finds her gone, he immediately assumes she has betrayed him, lied to him, and has gone back to her old patron because she’s No Damn Good. After two minutes, his father understands her more than he, who supposedly is devoted to her, does. He follows her to Paris, where a party is in progress. Some flamenco girls come in and dance. A guy in a matador costume comes in and I had to clap my hands over my mouth. I could just HEAR him breaking into “I want my shirt” from The Marx Brothers’ THE COCONUTS. But he didn’t, and I guess it was just as well. Alfredo wins a butt-load of money from her patron and throws it in her face (the money, not her patron’s butt). His father joins the chorus in telling Alfredo what a jerk he is. Her patron challenges Alfredo to a duel, and it’s about time that weasel stepped up to the plate for her.
Third act: Fantastic set. Just a bed with a headpiece of drapery decorated with huge white camellias that look like the tops of skulls, and banks of candles on the floor–dozens and dozens of candles of various lengths. Futral is made up to look like a girl who is honest-to-God dying of consumption–pale, hollow cheeks, sunken eyes, hair straggling down. She plays the scene barefoot and in a plain white nightgown, nothing frilly and romantic. When her maid puts her in a robe, it’s gray, and the ruffles make it look like grave-rags. Brilliant. She plays the scene in a series of rallies, not in a series of artful swoons, if you see the difference. When Clueless–I mean Alfredo–and his father finally come in, Alfredo is like, “Oh, I’m here, poor thing, so everything is good.” His father is like, “I’m such a BUTT! I’m so SORRY! I was so WRONG! YOU ROCK, girl!” Violetta gives Alfredo a locket with her own picture in it and tells him to give it to the pure and innocent maiden he will marry and tell her it’s a picture of someone in heaven who’s praying for her. You know, I love my husband, but the one thing missing in our marriage is that he never gave me a picture of his dead consumptive mistress. I forgive him, but still…. So Violetta is happy, and has a final rally. She says she feels life returning–and then falls down dead.
This is usually so corny, only great singing can keep you from going, “Oh, puh-LEEEZ!” but this production–If there had been no singing, I would have bought this presentation. But the singing…Oh, my dear Lord, the singing was close to divine. I hope I hear something half that good sometime again.
There are two more shows this season: OF MICE AND MEN and HANSEL AND GRETEL. I’m looking forward to them.
writing prompt: If your spouse gave you a photo of his/her dead lover, imagine how you’d feel.