La Traviata at Nashville Opera

Emily Birsan as Violetta Valery (Photo Anthony Popolo)

In 1852 Giuseppe Verdi began composing his great La Traviata for the next season’s Carnival in Venice. The libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave after Alexandre Dumas’ play La dame aux camélias, and premiered on March 6, 1853. Dumas’ tragic narrative is a semi-autobiographical account of his own relationship with Marie Duplessis who died of consumption shortly after their relationship ended. On October 4th, Nashville Opera opened its season with a performance of this, perhaps Verdi’s most romantic opera, at the Tennessee Center for the Performing Arts.

The best part about Verdi’s operas, as with most Italian operas, are the vocal numbers and La Traviata is no different. For this production they brought in American Soprano Emily Birsan and Korean tenor Won Whi Choi. While the two singers were not perfectly matched, their strengths led to some magical moments in the production. Birsan, who has a bright and delicate voice was particularly magnificent in the second act in the moments when she is in love with Alfredo and by the third act when her illness takes over. For Choi’s part he has a tremendous instrument with a bright, brassy sound. In the famous first act drinking song,

Emily Birsan as Violetta and Won Whi Choi as Alfredo Germont. (Photo Anthony Popolo)

“Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” he was magnificent. In the party scenes, Birsan’s portrayal of Violetta as the life of the party was alluring, and well matched by Choi’s fetching glances.

The supporting cast, including the Baron, (Baritone Jeffrey Williams), and Doctor Grenvil (Bass, Ben Troxler) were all very strong. As always Amy Tate William’s choir was well prepared and the orchestra was flawless under Dean Williamson’s baton—in particular it was fun to hear and see the cimbasso in the horn section. In all is was an outstanding production and well worth a Thursday night out. Nashville Opera returns in early November with Jake Heggie’s brilliant Three Decembers.


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