The In Series tackles their first Verdi in their 31-year history with the classic tragedy La Traviata (The Fallen Woman). Director Nick Olcott apparently had the idea 10 years ago and it has come to fruition just in time for Guiseppe Verdi’s 200th Birthday. Francesco Maria Piave wrote the libretto and the opera premiered in 1882.
Paul Leavitt is the musical director of the piece; he also plays piano, conducts, and arranged Verdi’s score for string quartet. He’s managed to keep the grandeur of the piece while taking the opportunity to feature each instrument in ways not possible in a huge orchestra.
Olcott accomplishes the entire piece with 12 performers who tell the story of Violetta, the titular fallen woman who falls in love with Alfredo before his father tears them apart across a series of beautiful and iconic arias. Randa Rouweyha (Violetta) is the lynchpin. She has a powerful soprano that handles Verdi’s vocal acrobatics with ease on arias like “E strano – Ah, fors’e lui” (How strange! Maybe it is he!). Jesús Daniel Hernández (Alfredo) is a treat. He is a graduate of the Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, having been accepted by Domingo himself after singing in his dressing room one evening, despite a lack of formal training. He has a magical tenor on arias like “Lunge da lei” (When she’s not with me). I have a feeling I will be saying in a few years, “I saw him when…”
José Sacín (Giorgio Germont) stole every scene he was in as Alfredo’s father. He plays the tormented villain of the piece, whose motives are pure, trying to do the best for his son. His aria “Di sprezzo degno” (Beneath Contempt) is a tour-de-force and his extended duet with Rouweyha, “Pura siccome un angelo” (A girl as pure as an angel) is a thing of beauty.
The great strength of the In Series is the level of performer they are able to draw even to the supporting roles and the ensemble. Brody DelBeccaro (Baron) has a clarion tone. Patricia Portillo (Flora Bervoix) can hold her own in any opera house. The ensemble makes the piece with their choruses “Si ridesta in ciel” (Dawn is breaking) and “Largo al quadrupede” (Make way for the fatted ox).
This is a traditionally staged opera, which is unusual for the In Series, better known for its innovative programs; Artistic Director Carla Hübner wants to do justice to the first Verdi. Hopefully this will not be the last. They have proved that they are up for the big, traditional productions.
Osbel Susman-Peña conjures Paris with the details of his set – wallpaper, cobblestones, and ingenious chairs. Lighting Designer Joseph R. Walls did the heavy lifting, alternating between the traditional gas lamps of Paris and unusual colors to mark the progression of Violetta’s illness. Donna Breslin completes the time travel with simple period costumes filled with lace and gems.
The love struck pair sing, “Love is the heartbeat of the entire universe,” and all these years later La Traviata still serves as testament to that. The In Series proves you don’t need an epic production to put on an epic story. This opera brims over with stunning singing, innovative scoring, and a lot of heart.
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with two 15-minutes intermissions.