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The MET chooses traditional storytelling

Stephen Costello stars as Alfredo and Nadine Sierra is Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata.” (Marty Sohl/Met Opera)
Verdi plus Mayer plus Sierra equals a memorable ‘Traviata’

The one with the big bed, not the big clock.

Forgive me, but the above reference is shorthand for the last two Metropolitan Opera Live in HD productions of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” In 2017, local opera fans saw Director Willy Decker’s minimalist, hyper-modern version with its bleak stage and gigantic clock to remind us that time passes. The next year, the Met returned to traditional storytelling with Michael Mayer’s sumptuous 17th-century Parisian digs and costumes. Instead of a big clock,Mayer emphasized a courtesan’s bedchamber where a swirling party bustles through Act 1.

Dedicated Durangoans have seen both versions and may be relieved to know Mayer’s froufrou concept is back. The MET Live in HD production of the world’s most-performed opera will be streamed starting at 10:55 a.m. Saturday at the college.

“La Traviata” (The Fallen Woman) is the name of Verdi’s sumptuous 1853 opera. In 1851, he visited Paris and made a point to see “The Lady of the Camellias,” a hugely popular play by Alexandre Dumas fils who also wrote the best-selling novel. Inspired by a contemporary story about Marie Duplessis, a high-class prostitute who came from poverty, Dumas detailed her rise and fall as the toast of Paris. Duplessis died in February 1847 at age 23. In the novel, play, and opera, she is transformed into the vibrant Violetta who succumbs to the scourge of the time, tuberculosis.

If you go

WHAT: Verdi’s “La Traviata,” The MET Live in HD.

WHEN: 10:55 a.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Vallecito Room, Fort Lewis College Student Union, 1000 Rim Drive.

ADMISSION: Individual tickets: adults $28, seniors $25, $24 Met Member, $12 students.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.metopera.org and www.durangoconcerts.com, call 247-7657.

NOTE: Sung in Italian with English subtitles. Running time three hours, two intermissions.

By all accounts, Verdi was moved by the story and its enormous popularity in France. When he returned to Italy, he completed his work-in-progress, “Trovatore,” and immediately started sketching a new opera. He temporarily titled it: “Violetta,” which evolved into “La Traviata.”

Like Dumas, Verdi saw the story as indicative of the era, post-Napoleonic France indulging in every brand of hedonism encouraged by a growing bourgeoisie. But Verdi’s Venetian opera house, La Fenice, saw it otherwise and overruled contemporaneity for a 17th century setting. His bosses also shoehorned in an aging diva for the wan and youthful Violetta. At the premiere, March 6, 1853, “La Traviata” opened to mixed results, cheers for Act I, booing and boredom for the rest. So, Verdi set upon revisions. The next day, he famously wrote to a friend: “Last night was a failure. Was the fault mine or the singers? Time will tell.”

Rewriting and recasting followed, and by Feb. 1, 1855, the opera resurfaced to acclaim – in Madrid, Vienna and Barcelona. It was enormously popular although dogged by accusations of immorality. To this day, “Traviata” is part of every major company’s repertoire. The Met opened in 1883 with “Traviata” and has staged it more than 1,000 times.

In 2013, “Traviata” surpassed “Carmen” as the most popular opera performed in the world.

Saturday’s live performance features Nadine Sierra as Violetta, one of three sopranos who will rotate this season. Tenor Stephen Costello will sing Alfredo, Violetta’s besotted young lover, and baritone Luca Salsi, performs the unforgettable role of Germont, Alfredo’s father. He and Violetta share one long scene together, a searing confrontation between two points of view.

The real miracle of “Traviata” is that Verdi pulls all threads together to turn high Romanticism into gut-wrenching Realism.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.