Seven thirty-three, and the rain was bucketing. It was cold. It was dark. It was the perfect night to go to the opera. I, being an amateur opera fanatic (by way of National Public Radio afternoon opera broadcasts only, mind you), was thrilled beyond credence. It was opera time in Tennessee, y’all.
Lights down, curtain up. Happiness: the October 28th showing of La Traviata opened with a red-hot note of passion, quaking the theatre and sending waves of “wow” right on down my spine. It was an experience comparable only to dying and going to heaven minus the dying. Truly unforgettable.
What was I talking about? Oh yes, La Traviata. Composer Giuseppe Verdi was the whiz behind this opera, composing the music and putting the famous Alexander Dumas tale to song. Brian Salesky directed Knoxville Opera’s rendition of the famed La Traviata at the Tennessee Theatre. Joyce el-Khoury played the lead role of Violetta Valery, and Zach Borichevsky played Violetta’s lover, Alfredo Germont (it’s an opera after all). The show also boasted actors Mark Womack, Kevin Thompson (he had a VOICE!), Martha Prewitt, Amanda Tittle, and Boris van Druff.
La Traviata capitalizes on sacrifice, forgiveness, and, of course, love. Violetta Valery, a terminally ill courtesan, falls in love with Alfredo Germont, a striking gentleman. They move in together until the day Violetta is confronted by Alfredo’s father. He pleads with her to leave his son because she is tearing apart the reputable family name. Violetta sacrifices her love and leaves Alfredo for the isolation of her Paris abode. As her illness worsens, she finds herself longing for Alfredo, wishing she had not left him. At the end of the story, Alfredo returns to Violetta, and she dies in his arms. How tragic.
The actors were truly spectacular to behold. I sat through the entire three act opera in rapture at the marvelous talent that they possessed. Joyce el-Khoury played Violetta’s role superbly. She had impeccable volume and a voice that was magnificently histrionic. My only criticism about her performance was her liveliness during the scene of her death. To me, there just seems to be something twisted about a person bouncing about on her bed pronouncing for all the world in a sing-song voice that they are about to die. Perhaps, however, that was how the role was meant to be played. Zach Borichevsky who played Alfredo Germont also did stunningly. His voice, too, was incredible. His volume and gestures were true to character, but I cannot speak about their articulation (since I don’t know that much Italian, of course, plus, is an opera even supposed to be articulated?). I have only one critique about Mr. Borichevsky: he was too tall, thus rendering him awkward in the more, ah, emotional scenes. It looked a bit unnatural when he fell on the floor in tears, as his legs had trouble bending to match the 180 degrees of the floor. Just a bit hard to watch. Otherwise, every single actor did brilliantly.
The set was especially simple, yet it worked well. With ornate, time-period-proper bedding and furniture, it looked quite appropriate for the piece. Because the stage has stairs, the set was set up in tiers: truly brilliant. It just worked for the story. The lighting, too, was magnificent. There was one scene where Violetta was at a dance with Alfredo; however, they were in a separate room for a moment. Alfredo and Violetta occupied the entire stage, but because of the way the lighting was done, the audience still felt the heavy influence of the dance. Why? Because the lighting was such that shadows were on the back wall of figures dancing. Wow. The lighting continued to fit the mood with every scene- dim at the proper times, bright at the proper times, and so on.
Costumes must have been a hassle to put together. Since it was a period piece, every dress was quite hoop-ish and gaudy. It was exactly right for the opera as a whole and also for each character. Because Violetta was a courtesan, they did well to have slightly, um, revealing, one could say, dresses (as strange as that may sound). Make-up was not overdone, but just right. I couldn’t be any more optimistic about the performance of the orchestra, as well. Their timing was perfect, and the music itself fit the mood incredibly. Most of the actors did not use microphones since it was an opera; rather, they projected their voices. Throughout the entire theatre, their voices were easily heard. Beautiful.
The audience itself was a mass of enraptured gawkers. Most of the people were elderly, it seemed, so that might have a bit to do with the silence and whatnot.
The opera was the best thing to happen to me since the start of high school. It had such an impact on me that one of my new life goals is to work backstage at least once for an opera. La Traviata was one rummy performance.