Glimmerglass Festival Pierces the Heart with New “La Traviata” Co-Production
The world-class Glimmerglass Festival has a smashingly good new staging of “La Traviata” attracting patrons from across the Northeast thru 8/24 at their Alice Busch Opera Theater on the shores of Otsego Lake. There are many short day trips possible from the Capital Region to destinations known worldwide-SPAC, Olana, Williamstown, but there is none more rarefied and sumptuous than a trip to Glimmerglass where the elite of the opera world perform for two months to a huge contingent of devoted patrons (the audience member to my left was visiting from Boston) in the ravishingly bucolic setting of Cooperstown’s shore of Otsego Lake. It is like entering another world. A 15-minute drive from downtown Cooperstown where you can celebrate Mariano Rivera this weekend and there is a world of high culture accessible to all. To welcome you to her home and solicit your repeated visits, the lovely and gracious Artistic Director Francesca Zambello (who also directed “La Traviata”) circulated in our section handing out calendars asking “Are you coming back for the rest of the season?”
The curtain in front of the stage is sensationally emblazoned with a pair of eyes staring out of a torn paper effect on a field of gaudy daubed crimson paint or blood dripping down. The curtain slowly rises in time to the music revealing a hospital ward in grays and whites with floor to ceiling curtains, windows on the upstage wall and gray figures, nuns and attendants, moving in slow-motion, tending to the three patients in this ghostly chamber. Shortly after the scene is set, the patient in the center has paroxysms, dies and is carted off. The patient stage right rises from her bed, crosses center and drops her hospital gown revealing a fabulous, ravishing burgundy ball gown. The set begins to transform in front of our eyes. 13 thin panels which must have been 30 feet high begin turning from the washed out white of the hospital to a crimson ballroom with gold accents and trim. It looked like dominos falling or pages of a calendar flipping back. We are going back in time to when Violetta (The fallen woman of the title played and sung with a rapacious dynamism by Amanda Woodbury) was the toast of Paris and living a life of pleasure among the demi-monde. The 1853 score by Verdi is ravishingly beautiful and the arias devoted to pleasure are gifts to the ears and packed as they are into the early moments of the show thrill you with anticipation. Violetta is pursued and courted by Alfredo (Kang Wang in a muscularly romantic performance). Their duet and oath to each other to “Let’s enjoy ourselves. Wine and music make the night sparkle” is made crossing to each other on top of a very long banquet table. It’s an image that wouldn’t be out of place in “Moulin Rouge” which took this story as an inspiration which is itself an adaptation of “Camille” by Alexandre Dumas fils. The couple are entrancing in their brief scene together.
The couple move comfortably out to the country and the set change is another drastic shift in color and space. Where the life in the city was crowded with parties and incident, the bucolic setting brings a bright open kitchen with a huge birdcage in the corner and news of financial distress, Violetta must sell off everything. Alfredo leaves for Paris to settle accounts and his father Giorgio arrives in the person of Adrian Timpau, so strong and robust warning Violetta to leave Alfredo or his sister will never be able to marry into society. Violetta returns to Paris in the company of Baron Douphol (Jonathan Bryan, officious and commanding) to another party at Flora’s (Lindsay Metzger). Alfredo shows up and insults Violetta in front of all which precipitates a duel with the Baron. In the final scene, returning to the sanitarium and the present, Violetta is visited by Alfredo who pledges eternal love and begging for forgiveness. Everyone in “La Traviata” committed fully, energetically and passionately to their urgings and subsequent reversals. Their reunion is heart stopping. “Not a dry eye in the house” my seat mate commented post-show.
I could feel how all the action and the four settings might be taking place inside Violetta’s mind. The colors are strong and shifting from the gaudy reds of Paris to the washed-out country and sanitarium. The telling of this story asking for forgiveness, mercy and compassion for those who are not as privileged as us was powerfully and urgently communicated in bright, broad primary gestures scenically, emotionally and musically. I am in awe of the artistry at hand from the vocals of the entire cast, the conducting of Joseph Colaneri, the exquisite direction of Francesca Zambello, the sets by Peter J. Davidson, costumes by Jess Goldstein, lighting by Mark McCullough and everyone involved. Glimmerglass has made many moves to broaden its appeal, the afternoon I was there also featured a reading by Pulitzer winning poet Paul Muldoon, but nothing could do more to promote their vital irreplaceability than elemental, strikingly felt productions like this “La Traviata.”