$1 million La Traviata a 1st class production
Res ipse loquitor, “The thing speaks for itself.” Those are the only words I remember from our grad school course in Medical Jurisprudence nearly six decades ago.
La Traviata speaks for itself. Now there’s an unforgettable concept. Of all Verdi’s great operas, La Traviata has two elements setting it among the stars in the musical heavens.
It is an opera which has musical heart and dramatic soul. This adaptation of Dumas’ great novel and play, La Dame aux Camélias, is a story which is intensely gripping. The characters, the Parisian courtesan Violetta and her ardent lover Alfredo Germont, have to deal with another more powerful character – Violetta’s fatal disease, consumption.
Consumption, today known as tuberculosis, was the HIV/AIDS of the mid 19th century. It was treatable but incurable. It claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of all classes. Dumas wrote his book and play about that era.
Giuseppe Verdi became fascinated by the story and engaged his librettist Francesco Piave to adapt the play into an opera. To please the censors who objected to a tale of a courtesan, the time of the play was moved back to 1700. Distance lends enchantment.
A masterpiece was born – immortal music and a theme which overcomes the coldest hearts in any audience. By selecting La Traviata to end the fabulous Cincinnati Opera summer festival, Impresario Evans Mirageas joined with Florida Grand Opera to mount a million dollar production. The money was well spent!
Set, costumes, supporting cast, the entire production was first class. All of that is much appreciated, but La Traviata speaks for itself.
The gorgeous music was played by the Cincinnati Symphony musicians conducted peerlessly by Edoardo Müller, who also conducted the opening opera, Madame Butterfly. From the first notes, the mood was set.
The cast was led by soprano Eglise Gutiérrez. Mirageas proved his title of Impresario is well deserved. The role of Violetta was originally to be sung by Hei-Kyung Hong. Family illness forced the Met star to withdraw. Evans used his voluminous reserve of great talent to engage the lovely Gutiérrez. She made her Cincinnati and role debut as Violetta.
Her performance was completely beautiful. As an actress, confident beauty was well mixed with a real sense of vulnerability. The specter of her disease remained crouching in the background, adding tragic hues to the panoply of color of her great voice and the immortal music she sang.
As Alfredo, tenor Richard Leech, had all of the equipment. He is handsome with a special innocence, making his ardent love seem believable. He has vocal power and clear enunciation. Somehow, the magic was elusive. His great arias were well delivered but the goose bumps failed to appear.
It was baritone Philippe Rouillon who made those goose bumps appear. He is well remembered as all of the four heinous villains in the 2006 production of Tales of Hoffmann. As Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, he brought his compelling dignity
and fine vocal powers to a scene which remains an enigma.
Alfredo has convinced Violetta to put away the life of empty gaiety and folly for true love. They are in the country, living, in the words of one of the most beautiful arias, “De’ miei bollenti spiriti,” halfway in heaven.
Alfredo’s father appears and pleads with Violetta to give up Alfredo and their life of love - to save the marriage of his spoiled daughter to a privileged young man. Alfredo’s liaison with a courtesan would cancel the young swain’s love for Germont’s angelic daughter.
Even in the stilted atmosphere of that century, Germont senior should have been shown the door by Violetta with some very choice words. Instead, his relentless persuasion works. If Father Germont were here today he could be an incredible Secretary of State rendering enemies into quivering masses of acquiescence.
Perhaps Violetta’s agreement was part of her fatalistic acceptance of her disease. She leaves Alfredo only to incite his jealousy and machismatic rage.
The rest of the opera sorts out the relentless tragedy of love realized, love lost, hope abandoned and death. Now that’s the stuff of real opera!
The other cast members had splendid moments. Audrey Babcock made her Flora, Violetta’s partner in their special entertainment business, lively and fun. As the loyal maid Annina, Jig Zhang used her lovely voice for short but memorable ariettas.
Dayton Opera regular David Michael is always vocally and physically imposing on stage. His sympathetic portrayal of Violetta’s doctor was superb.
The ballet in act III often has the feeling of something inserted. Here, the dancers in Spanish costumes were lively and exciting as they sang to the music of the excellent male and female choristers.
Even spending a million dollars left room for some minor boo-boos. The elaborate sets were lit unevenly. The perimeters were dark, taking away the intended gaiety of the ball scenes. The stage direction managed to move the large cast through the maze of furnishings but there were some stilted moments.
But who cares about petty details. It was a magnificent night of opera culminating in a magnificent summer festival. Bravi to all the staff and artists of Cincinnati Opera. They deserve and have earned our love and devotion.
Zeitgeber exhibit at Link Gallery
Link Gallery, an art gallery in the Oregon Arts District and home to a group of Dayton’s most notable artists, is presenting a new exhibit, ZEITGEBER – German for ‘time givers’, an exhibit of blown glass by Thomas Chapman, paintings and drawings by Jennifer Rosengarten, and mobiles by Terry Welker. The exhibit, addressing the theme of nature’s recurring rhythms and our own recapitulative refrains, is being held in concurrence with another community event of interest to those who appreciate art and nature - Cox Arboretum Metro Park’s Native Butterfly House, open through Labor Day, and their Garden Walk, Learning From the Landscape, held on Aug. 3, 2 p.m. at the arboretum, 6733 Springboro Pike.
Exhibit Dates: July 31 – Aug. 30
Artists’ Talk and wine reception -Thursday, July 31, 5-8 p.m.
First Friday Event, Aug. 1, 5-10 p.m.
Second Look Saturday, Aug. 2, 2-8 p.m.
Giving Strings Aug. 9 concert
It’s hard to believe that communities close to us such as Moraine. Dayton and Kettering can have poverty and hunger problems. What about the health of these less fortunate kids? They have just as much right to healthy foods such as fruits and veggies as we do. This year, Giving Strings will be donating their proceeds to a branch of The Food Bank of Dayton called The Kid’s Café, a place where kids go to enjoy healthy nourishing food, a safe place to play, and social and recreational opportunities to meet other kids. The Kid’s Café operates Monday through Friday at various churches, schools, and after-school programs…. But what about the weekend?
Giving Strings will be supporting a similar project through the Food Bank of Dayton called the Good-to-Go Backpack Program. This program helps 1000 local children in need every weekend. Each backpack is filled with kid-friendly, easy to open and easily prepared foods. No one but the child knows what is in his or her backpack to preserve their confidentiality and dignity.
The Giving Strings Concert will take place on Saturday, Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. in Shafor Park. Everyone is welcome to listen or play. Please call 293-5753 for details. This year canned goods as well as donations will be appreciated.
|Enjoy Olympics with Chinese ‘staycation’ party
Why not have an August “staycation” and invite a few guests over for viewing the opening night ceremonies and for Chinese food. (no, no not carry-out) The Chinese believe that there is human healing through the joys of sharing cuisine and relationships and call this focus on connection and community “guanxi.”
Now it’s time for all of you “cultural athletes” to get in training for your dinner party. Run, don’t walk, and buy The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones and the Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee. (Yes, 8...it means prosperity in Chinese) Every burning question you’ve ever had regarding Chinese food will be answered: Who is General Tso?; why is every Chinese restaurant in the U.S. alike?; who invented the fortune cookie? (hint, it’s not the Chinese); What is the connection between fortune cookies and the lottery? In other words, you’ve got a treasure trove of non-essential but really interesting facts for your cornucopia of esoterica.
Nicole Mones, who was in Dayton several weeks ago to sign her books, spoke with me about her tome and the Imperial Banquet we enjoyed at the Far Hills China Cottage prepared by Chef Tiger Wang. The Last Chinese Chef
Brilliantly, Nicole creates a fabric to the story with so much information worthy of time from anyone who will or has traveled to China, ones interested in cross-cultural protocol and anyone who wants to read a sensitive story with a certain lyricism to its prose.
We are informed that Imperial Cuisine is a collection of dishes from all representative styles of cooking—basically five. The dishes must fulfill certain parameters: artifice dishes look like one thing but taste like something else (i.e. where a chicken would be reconstructed with skin on the outside and vegetarian ingredients on the inside). This is more or less the culinary equivalent of trompe l’oeil in art. There is another parameter based on literature which is centered in Hangzhou. This is the cuisine of the literati where poets and calligraphers were attracted and dishes were named for them or one of their works, trying to cook in taste and reaction to what the mind and heart felt from reading. The most famous literati dish is Dun Po Pork and is on most menus throughout he world. So here we see cuisine as a temporal art-it is the beauty of art and how quickly it vanishes, much like music.
In China every dish is individually conceived and nothing is plated for one in the spirit of guanxi. There are roughly 12,000 named dishes in Chinese Cuisine. In the U.S. we have a core of about eight sauces that sadly leaves us thinking that most Chinese food tastes alike. This ancient cuisine, with such subtlety and depth, can only be appreciated off menu as Chef Wang prepared the Imperial Banquet. Standouts were his Salmon Spring Rolls, Shark Fin Chowder and Sesame Tofu accompanied by Scallops in Hot Bean Sauce. Try to notify him in advance if you take a group in and perhaps this Chef, who is also a Chinese Opera singer, will grace you with his culinary prowess.
Now remember at a real Chinese banquet no business is discussed. What is important is who invites, the menu must flatter the diner, who serves whom and who sits facing the door and who has his back to the door.
Thanks to Chef Wang of the Far Hills China Cottage and to Laura Cherry from PF Changs China Bistro for the above two recipes for your 8.8.08 Olympics Party of prosperity.
Gotta run! Soup’s on!
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