San Francisco Opera Preview: LA TRAVIATA (SF Opera)

Post image for San Francisco Opera Preview: LA TRAVIATA (SF Opera)

by Paul Selar on June 6, 2014

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


LA TRAVIATA - Grand Opera Librettos CoverWhen the theater lights fade to darkness at the War Memorial Opera House, the first notes of La Traviata will introduce a somber musical theme heard again in Act III’s prelude, leading to the final tragic ending. In between, you’ll get to know Violetta Valéry, and by evening’s end you’ll invite her into your heart. The celebrated courtesan who parties extravagantly, turns to simplicity through love, and dies tragically with requited love as her only joy is the subject of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1853 triumph of opera, La Traviata. This musical and dramatic masterpiece has been performed on countless stages around the world during its 160-year history. Today, it’s the world’s most performed opera. For those who have never seen it, it will be a revelation. For those who have seen it, it will be like visiting an old friend. And for those who can’t get enough, San Francisco Opera’s production, opening on June 11, offers two different casts in the leads, an opportunity to see different interpretations in both the music and character complexity within the same production.

TraviataThe latter is great news, for La Traviata is an opera many aim to see more than once. Once seen, it’s hard to imagine never seeing and feeling it again. In this lavish production from original director John Copley and revival director Laurie Feldman, two cast line-ups give audiences the understanding that individual artistic expression is never definitive. Copley, with over four decades of credits across global opera stages, and Feldman, long-time celebrated for her work with SF Opera, bring their own renowned artistic talents to tantalize anyone into taking a trip to San Francisco this summer. Together with John Conklin’s splendid 19th-century sets and David Walker’s sumptuous costumes, this will be a Traviata to remember.

Ailyn Pérez & Stephen Costello are the cover stars of this month’s Opera Now magazine.Set to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, this tragic love story comes from Giuseppe Verdi’s middle years. Based on Alexandre Dumas’ 1848 novel and play La Dame aux Camélias, the first act introduces us to Violetta and Alfredo Germont. At the party that Violetta throws to celebrate her return to health, Alfredo declares his love for her. The second act finds the two living together in a country house outside Paris when Alfredo’s father Giorgio arrives and convinces Violetta that she must leave Alfredo. Her liaison with Alfredo is endangering the engagement of Alfredo’s sister, Giorgio declares. Violetta dutifully abandons Alfredo, who, not knowing the role played by his father, subsequently insults her at a party. In the final act, the two lovers are reconciled on Violetta’s deathbed. It is a poignant story that perhaps expresses something of the composer’s own fraught love life, since Verdi lived with the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi for more than a decade before they finally married in 1859.

Nicole Cabell, SOPRANOTwo great champions of voice and stagecraft express Violetta’s multi-dimensional character: striking American soprano Nicole Cabell (June 11, 14, 17, 20, 25, and 29) and beautiful Mexican-American soprano Ailyn Pérez (July 5, 8, 11, and 13). Cabell is carving out a still young but successful career. 2005 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, she is an exciting lyric soprano whose career has taken her to many of the most important opera and concert halls in the world. She made her SF Opera debut in 2012 as Giulietta in I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Her solo debut album Soprano was named “Editor’s Choice” by Gramophone, and Opera News noted that “Cabell’s tone is liquid gold.”

Ailyn Pérez, who returns to San Francisco as Violetta after her 2009 debut in the role, subsequently adding further experience in the part performing at London’s Royal Opera House and Hamburg Staatsoper. The Observer described her as “an ideal Violetta … the bewitching young soprano puts her heart into every twist of the drama, from the impetuousness of her love for Alfredo…to the febrile emergency of her death…her performance was glorious, the quiet passages magical.” Watch Ms. Pérez discuss her role as Violetta in Richard Eyre’s 2011 production at the Royal Opera House.

Saimur Pirgu (June 11, 14, 25, and 29) and Stephen Costello (June 17, 20; July 5, 8, 11, and 13) share the tenor role of Alfredo. In less than a decade, Pirgu has forged a solid career as one of the world’s rising young stars and was described as “right on vocally as well as dramatically” by Associated Press in his portrayal of the role, which he takes on at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as well as in Naples and Zurich before the year’s end. Stephen Costello made an auspicious debut as Greenhorn in SF Opera’s Moby Dick in 2012, an astounding production which is available on DVD. Philadelphia Enquirer gives praise for his “engaging pure voice”. Costello and has appeared on many of the world’s great opera stages including singing the role of Alfredo previously at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Stephen Costello singing “Human Madness” from Moby Dick at SF Opera:

For those who don’t know, Ailyn Pérez & Stephen Costello are married and considered the “It” couple of opera (they are the cover stars of this month’s Opera Now magazine). About their string of La Traviata productions culminating at SF Opera, Costello says: “I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Traviata with Ailyn. It’s nice to be like a normal family once in a while and come home to each other every night instead of an empty hotel room and a Skype chat. Plus, it feels fresh and different every time we do it. We perform these roles together and with different people so it’s not like we are ever doing the same Traviata over and again. We always end up doing new things that can surprise each other –in a good way.” Below is a clip of them singing “Un di felice” from the Royal Opera’s broadcast:

Completing the trio of characters making up La Traviata‘s central plot, Vladimir Stoyanov (June 11, 14, 17, 20, 25, and 29) and Quinn Kelsey (July 5, 8, 11, and 13) perform the baritone role of Giorgio. Performing in his San Francisco Opera debut, Stoyanov brings undeniable experience from his performances in the role at Milan’s Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello in LA TRAVIATA at Cincinnatti Opera (photo by Philip Groshong)Teatro alla Scala, Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper and Madrid’s Teatro Reale. Kelsey made his main stage SF Opera debut in 2008 as Marcello in La bohème, and has had major roles since, including Amonasro in Aida and Sharpless in Madama Butterfly.

Two celebrated conductors share the podium. SF Opera’s Music Director since 2009, Nicola Luisotti will lead the accomplished musicians of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra on June 11, 14, 17, 20, 25, and 29. With a schedule that includes leading the orchestras of many of the world’s great opera houses, his musical interpretation is eagerly anticipated. Giuseppe Finzi (July 5, 8, 11, and 13), credited with a past appointment at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala as assistant conductor, has developed a highly respected reputation in his current role as SF Opera’s Resident Conductor.

OPERA AT THE BALLPARK - SF Opera's LA TRAVIATA July 5, 2014And don’t miss the informative pre-performance opera talk starting 55 minutes prior to each performance in the main orchestra section of the theatre. It’s the perfect way to settle in for the night’s performance, learn something new and take home just a little more of La Traviata’s art and heart. Clearly there’s nothing better than seeing it in person, but San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Giants are collaborating to bring to you Opera at the Ballpark on Saturday, July 5 at 8pm for a free performance of a live simulcast from the War Memorial Opera House.

La Traviata
San Francisco Opera
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue
plays June 11 – July 13, 2014
3 hours, including two intermissions
sung in Italian with English supertitles
for dates and tickets, call (415) 864-3330 or visit
for the July 5 simulcast info, visit Opera at the Ballpark

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