They were newfound friends with a common dilemma. Some spoke English, and others French. They were Millennial and in their party best—beautiful people by any measure, but a tad confused. One in this crowd raised his head and in his thick French accent asked anyone in earshot in the lobby –“ Please, if you understand why she broke it off, help us…”
They were stumped by how Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont (Željko Lučić) had convinced lovebird Violetta (Albina Shagimuratova) to leave her heartthrob Alfredo (Goergio Berrugi). When it was explained that Alfredo’s sister’s fiancée wouldn’t brook his wife’s brother hanging out with a courtesan and so would break off their engagement, a collective “Ah” and “Oh” emerged from the gaggle. Not a modern story—but a classic one censors of the time insisted be set at least a century before as this very storyline was so scandalous.
This cry for help in the Lyric lobby was during the second intermission of the opening night performance of perennial opera favorite, Verdi’s La Traviata. Though a bit muddled, this group as likely everyone else in the lobby was deeply invested. By this writer’s lights, it would have been difficult not to be after hearing Lučić’s commanding voice. His arias were the ones that first made the audience erupt in very loud and passionate BRAVO!s. This had been one of the most intimate scenes of the opera, which the stage design seemed geared to help us feel like we were in their room, by tilting the floor so that the singers appeared closer---even to those in the very back of the balcony, one imagines.
This full tilt touch to the floor was one of the more subtle stagecraft elements and perhaps crowded out by the many nothing-subtle-about-them moments of pageantry. (Set Design: Riccardo Hernandez; Costume and Puppet Design: Cait O’Connor; Lighting Design: Marcus Doshi; Projection Design: Christopher Ash).
As the opera begins we hear the plaintive violin strings sounding Violetta’s theme—speaking to her inner fragility and sadness—as we view her behind a lace façade slowly getting dressed. The lace curtain rises and the lighting so subtly changes leaving Violetta in a spotlight glow and then WHOOSH! her mirror magically vanishes in a snap. She is now at a rollicking party with most in costumes. Lights are added to amplify their shadows, making them feel like a larger number. Quite the spectacle, and yet it seemed like the creative team took up a challenge to themselves in the next ballroom scene to raise the ante higher still. Round globe lights of various hues filled a brilliant vermillion hall. We barely have time to take this in and tame our awe when music and provocatively dressed dancers then make way for larger than life bull heads and skeleton torso puppets – another spectacle as only opera can do it!
La Traviata is a Highly predictable Lyric Opera Hit
Yet it is the music of La Traviata that most makes it a must-see and must-hear staple of the opera repertoire and for this production Lyric has assembled three lead voices with range, timbre and expressive qualities very well-matched to the story.
In the first Act we had to strain a bit to hear the sweet tenor voice of Alfredo. That volume problem seemed to change quickly, even on the first night, and will likely not be an issue in later performances. Berrugi’s voice is one you certainly want to soak up to the max.
For this writer, there was sometimes a nagging feeling that the singers were performing more for the conductor (Michael Christie in his Lyric debut) than for the audience. In the final Act when the performers looked directly at each other for almost the entirety, this feeling disappeared.
How interesting to hear in the pre-concert lecture that this opera was not an immediate hit. How could that be? Every note seems to create a thirst for the next. This is music as only Verdi can do it. If you haven’t experienced La Traviata before, this is a top pick entertainment option—cold weather be darned.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
COMPOSER: GIUSEPPE VERDI
Conductor: MICHAEL CHRISTIE*
Director: ARIN ARBUS
Set Designer: RICCARDO HERNANDEZ
Costume and Puppet Designer: CAIT O’CONNOR
Lighting Designer: MARCUS DOSHI
Projection Designer: CHRISTOPHER ASH
Chorus Master: MICHAEL BLACK
Choreographer: AUSTIN McCORMICK
Ballet Mistress: AUGUST TYE
Wigmaster and Makeup Designer: SARAH HATTEN
Assistant Director: JORDAN LEE BRAUN
Stage Manager: JOHN W. COLEMAN
Stage Band Conductor: FRANCESCO MILIOTO
Musical Preparation: NOAH LINDQUIST , JERAD MOSBEY
Projected English Titles: FRANCIS RIZZO
ALBINA SHAGIMURATOVA, ZOIE REAMS, DAVID WEIGEL, CHRISTOPHER KENNEY, RICARDO JOSÉ RIVERA, MARIO ROJAS, GIORGIO BERRUGI, LAUREN DECKER, ERIC FERRING, ŽELJKO LUČIĆ, VINCE WALLACE, MATTHEW CARROLL
JORDAN BEYELER, ANDREW HARPER, DEMETRIUS McCLENDON, MICHELLE REID, BENJAMIN HOLLIDAY WARDELL
Thru March 22
Lyric Opera House
20 N. Wacker Dr.