Review - 'La Traviata' thrives in small space

Saturday, January 26, 2008

KU Opera opened its production of the perennial favorite, "La Traviata," in the Baustian Theatre in Murphy Hall Thursday night. Directed by Tim Ocel with music direction by Mark Ferrell, this opera showcases a cast of fine singers and actors in one of Verdi's most popular operas.

While the intimate Baustian Theatre might not be the first place one expects the grand Verdi operas, Ocel and Ferrell have gathered singers whose voices fill the space without overwhelming it and who are given the opportunity to showcase some more delicate singing and performing than would read in a larger space. Although one felt at times that the full sound of an orchestra was needed, Ferrell's excellent piano accompaniment balanced the small cast very well.

The tragic story of the beautiful Violetta Valery and her ardent if naÃive suitor Alfredo Germont is, of course, taken from the 1848 Dumas novel "La dame aux Camelias," whose story has been adapted to film and stage many times as "Camille." The courtesan Violetta, who is dying of consumption, falls in love with Alfredo and vows to renounce her previous high-flying life. However, Giorgio Germont, Alfredo's father pleads with her to give up Alfredo since his attachment to her is endangering their family reputation. Violetta yields to his entreaties and runs away. The lovers are eventually reunited in time for Violetta to die in Alfredo's arms with all past hurts forgiven.

Tenor Charles Martinez was an affecting Alfredo, and although he took a little while to get his breath under him in the first act, his is a sweet, honey-smooth tenor with an interesting color and sound. As Violetta, Tausha Torrez (who shares the role on alternating nights with Andrea Garritano) gives a fully nuanced performance with subtle and believable acting. She struggled a little with the Act I tour de force aria "Ah, fors'Ã lui ... Sempre libera," but maintained a fairly steady tone showing a remarkable flexibility and strength there and throughout the opera in a role that requires the soprano to warble intricate passages while lying on the floor or draped over a chair or otherwise revealing her growing "weakness." But Torrez was very good at maintaining stillness in her body when it was needed as in "Addio del passato" in Act III, which was breathtaking.

Another strong performance was given by Lane Johnson as Giorgio Germont. (He shares the role on alternating nights with Matthew Haney.) He and Torrez were completely compelling in their long Act II struggle, and Johnson imbued Germont with a sympathetic humanity rather than making him seem like an overbearing father. His full-voiced singing had an exquisitely beautiful tone.

Although the Act I drinking song "Libiamo" was considerable less energetic than it needed to be, the small chorus almost stole the show in Act II as they cavorted through the party scene as gypsies and toreadors with strong singing from every member of the cast there and throughout the evening.

One should never pass up an opportunity to experience this opera, and one should definitely not miss this production.

Sarah Young is a lecturer in Kansas University's English department. She can be reached at <a href=""></a>.