Michael Fabiano (Alfredo) and Brenda Rae (Violetta) in La Traviata, Santa Fe Opera, 2013 (photo by Ken Howard)
It is the last week of July, and that means press week here at the Santa Fe Opera, the chance to hear what five operas, and other goodies, are on offer. My week in New Mexico began last night with Verdi's La Traviata, one of the season's two chestnuts -- part of a brilliant programming formula here. The staging is a revival, with some reworking, of Laurent Pelly's 2009 production, then starring Natalie Dessay in her title role debut, which I covered for Opernwelt. This performance comes on the heels of a re-examination of the life of courtesan Marie Duplessis, the subject of a rewarding new book by Julie Kavanagh, The Girl Who Loved Camellias: The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessis. The book separates the life of the person -- the poor girl from Normandy, abandoned by her father and then sold by him into sexual slavery, who rose to great wealth as a Parisian courtesan, only to be doomed by her tragic love for Franz Liszt -- from the legend later concocted by Alexandre Dumas fils (who was one of her paramours) in La Dame aux Camélias and, through it, Verdi's Violetta.
J. Kavanagh, The Girl Who Loved Camellias: The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessis (2013)
Pelly and his set designers (Chantal Thomas, assisted by Camille Dugas), rethought the second act, running it into the first with only a short pause and improving the staging significantly. Perhaps taking Alfredo's line about being on cloud nine ("io vivo quasi in ciel"), several of the large boxes of the set were opened up, to reveal views of a perfect blue sky with fluffy clouds. The effect was somewhat surreal, almost like something you would see in a Magritte painting -- I half-expected Germont to enter in a bowler hat. It also served to lighten up what was one of Pelly's most drab stagings, with its mausoleum-like boxes serving as cemetery, party scenes, country cottage, and Parisian apartment.
James M. Keller, SFO’s ‘La traviata’ has ups, downs (Santa Fe New Mexican, July 21)
John Stege, Violetta Revisited (Santa Fe Reporter, July 23)
This production continues through August 22, at the Santa Fe Opera.