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Mounting grand opera presents a host of daunting challenges, especially for local companies in these stressed economic times, and yet Asheville Lyric Opera’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata revealed none of them. Seldom have I seen any local company launch a production of such consistently high artistic caliber as this one, nor been as moved by what I witnessed. Stage director Jon Truitt, conductor Scott Schoonover, chorus master Vance Reese, and set designer Julie K. Ross, with a stellar cast, worked their magic throughout what was to be a stupendous evening of music making. The opera was sung in Italian with English supertitles. The Grand Bohemian Hotel, Asheville and Village Antiques at Biltmore were sponsors, with the latter supplying some of the beautiful furniture seen onstage.
Verdi composed La Traviata on a libretto that Francesco Maria Piave based on La Dame aux camélias, a play by Alexandre Dumas fils. The opera was first performed at Teatro La Fenice, Venice, on March 6, 1853. Although most of Verdi's operas were set in the historical past, this one is set in his own time, the middle nineteenth century. Its realistic characters, situations, and emotions must have resonated deeply with the audience that first heard it.
There were very attractive headliners cast in the lead parts. Cuban-American soprano Elizabeth Caballero in the title role of Violetta Valéry, the “fallen woman,” was the consummate heroine-under-duress, able to act the part as deeply as she sang it. Technically secure and musically savvy, her singing was always in service to her role and never a mere display of bel canto bravura. The same could be said of Alok Kumar as Alfredo Germont, her impassioned but misguided lover. Like Caballero, Kumar mesmerized the audience with his profound interpretation of his character and the sheer beauty and intensity of his singing. These sought-after artists have already sung to critical acclaim and been the recipients of numerous awards. It will be exciting to watch their careers develop and to have them return to Asheville Lyric Opera in the future.
In addition to being the stage director, Jon Truitt was memorable as Giorgio Germont, father of Alfredo. His commanding presence in Act II leant real credibility to his demands on Violetta and her acquiescence in giving up Alfredo. Julia Turnbull was the sweetly attentive servant Annina of Violetta, while Kevin Richard Doherty deftly sang the role of the strutting Baron Douphol. The Lyric Opera Chorus, well-rehearsed and beautifully turned out in elegant, colorful costumes, added just the right touch of desperate gaiety to each of the party scenes. The orchestra, while small, was led with a sure hand from the podium. Kudos especially to the strings for the achingly beautiful passage which opens the opera and returns at the beginning of Act III, and to the winds (Fred Lemmons, clarinet, and Emily Calvedt, oboe), for your lovely solos.