MN Opera's 'La Traviata' leaves something to be desired

By Corey Koscielniak

The story of “La Traviata” plays into the age old monomythic cycle, yet the difference is the gender of our tragic hero(ine). Violetta spends her nights throwing fabulous parties for Paris’s bourgeois elite in her humble apartment financed by her courtesan relationship with the Baron. For all those who don’t follow, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “La Traviata” inspired Baz Luhrmann’s film “Moulin Rouge!”. After the first act ended, I believed the opera to be full of promise-mostly due to Bruno Ribeiro, the actor playing Alfredo. The plot begins when Alfredo, a rich gentlemen of the time, gives a toast (called the brindisi, an operatic drinking song) respecting Violetta’s beauty-even going so far to tell her that he wants to marry Violetta and make her a proper woman. When Alfredo walks on stage, and begins his toast, the audience can sense the tension and anxiety in his words. He’s nervous, he loves this woman and he’s about to tell this in front of a huge crowd of people-with her proprietor the Baron included. So he does, she freaks out and the whole party gets a little “Macalester-awkward.” Violetta asks for time alone, and everyone leaves, except Alfredo-who stays behind and professes his love in the most passionate and amusing way I’ve ever seen. Ribeiro’s interpretation of this classic character had me gushing in waves of chills. I’ve never experienced someone singing with such power as to make me wish that he was singing to me-honest to god amazing.

However Violetta, played by Elizabeth Futral, wasn’t as convincing as her male counterpart. I partly didn’t care for her performance for multiple reasons. She did not seem prepared. All her steps were too calculated. Moreover, she undermined the elegance of Verdi’s scales, trills and lyric textures-not only in the principal aria of the first act, but throughout the entire opera. I was less than impressed with her performance, her lack of correct Italian pronunciation and her American Idol-like movements while belting out notes. If she hadn’t been singing the entire time, I could have imagined her to be having a seizure.

So the first act ends, and I’m already ready for it to be over. However, I have hope that Bruno Ribeiro will appear onstage again and make it all better. The lights signal the start of the second act and as with the first act, my ears fill up with the sounds of Minnesotans coughing incessantly as if signaling lights off means that everyone can now make irritating respiratory sounds . I’m surprised by the lack of civility found within these audience members. It really detracts from the overall experience if the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks, “How was the opera,” you have to say, “I don’t know; all I heard was coughing.”

I also took note of several technical aspects of the play. Firstly, the opening scene with Verdi’s bipolar prelude gave the audience something to look forward to. The orchestra has clearly practiced this music; not only can they play the technical difficulties effectively, but one senses a passionate fondness within their expression. They like playing this music. I only wish that the Violetta could have stepped up her game to their level.

The lighting began strong, though eventually made it difficult to pinpoint important actions occurring on stage. For instance, during the brindisi, my eyes couldn’t focus on which particular characters were speaking since the lighting gave me no visual cues to move to different positions on the stage. This was further exacerbated by the strange choreography of characters’ movements. It seemed as if everyone onstage had the five-foot-personal-space syndrome in which no one can be within such distance from each other. This made the many of the characters’ acting unconvincing, trivial and quite boring. If I wanted to watch a bunch of poorly executed performances on a Saturday night, I would have gone to see a high school production of “Evita”.

While Ribeiro, the orchestra and the dancers all pulled their weight, knew their lines and went above and beyond the expectations of their characters, Violetta did not. Verdi designed “La Traviata” and put all his assets into her being a good performer. In this sense, everyone ultimately fails because she fails.