The distinguishing characteristic — or at least cliche — of most classical opera is doomed woman or flawed men singing soaring arias about death, betrayal and love before dying while praying to god while a villainous count twirls his moustache. OK, maybe not most, but it certainly makes up a notable percentage of them. (See the recent Samson & Dalila.)
But La Traviata is different. The heroine, Violetta (coloratura soprano Georgia Jarman), is neither slavegirl nor queen, but a humble, vibrant courtesan of modest means. Her romantic partner, Alfredo (tenor Rene Barbera) is perhaps naive, but not callow nor clingy nor “bad for her.” Their love is complicated because Violetta is unwell (tuberculosis could be fatal them) and their unmarried situation proves awkward for Alfredo’s sister, who hopes to marry well. There’s a priggish baron, a sanctimonious father, a catty social rival. But an outright antagonist? No, La Traviata (basically it translates as “the unfortunate woman”) is too grounded in the authentic emotional lives of its protagonists to cleave to a two-dimensional structure. There are no villains, here — just the vagaries of life and love.
That’s made it one of the most widely performed operas in the canon, though as much as any opera can be, the success hinges on the diva at its center. And the Dallas Opera, which continues its performance of the opera tonight and through Nov. 12, has one of the best I’ve ever seen. Jarman is a charismatic and lovely actress, and a singer of unusual power and vocal control. She navigates the emotional roller coaster of Violetta — bright and cheery, self-sacrificing, weak yet hopeful — with consummate skill. Each moment she’s onstage, you don’t want to take your eyes off her.
You do, however, get a few opportunities to look away when Barbera is the focus. His performance of “Brindisi,” perhaps the most identifiable melody in the opera (if not all opera) is lively and beautiful. And baritone Vladislav Sulimsky as Alfredo’s father balances the fine line of being sympathetic even when he’s wrong.
Directed Stefania Panighini imbues the production with so much energy, you sit on the edge of your seat even if you know what comes next. Conductor Carlo Montanaro leads the Dallas Opera orchestra is a faithful and flawless execution of Verdi’s music. Every element from the set and lighting to Jarman’s makeup in the final scene is on point. This is an unmissible production of a magnificent work.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Performs tonight and through Nov. 12. DallasOpera.org. Photo courtesy Karen Almond/Dallas Opera.