Fallen women and strong sopranos: A review of La Traviata at the Straz

Verdi's feminist masterpiece offers modern houses much to muse upon.

click to enlarge Cody Austin and Cecilia Lopez. - Opera Tampa
Opera Tampa
Cody Austin and Cecilia Lopez.

When you think of feminism, do you think of opera?

No? Then perhaps you need to rethink both, because Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata made me think of little else Friday night at the Straz. The title itself translates, literally, to mean "the woman led astray" and, because this is opera, that means, ultimately, punishment by death.

$49.50-$125. March 13, 2 p.m. Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. $28. 813-229-STAR.

La Traviata's storyline is predictably tragic (opera isn't known for sunshine and rainbows) and goes as such: Party girl Violetta (Cecilia Violetta Lopez) falls in love with a man, Alfredo (Cody Austin), and leaves her current lover, Baron Douphol (Daniel DeVincente) to live with Alfredo in the country. Also, she has TB. But this is the turn of the
18th century, and party girls are not forgiven their wild ways (unlike, say, how accepting the media has been with Miley Cyrus in the 21st century) and Alfredo's father, Giorgio (Jean Francois Lapointe), visits Violetta and explains his daughter's fiancee's family will not allow his daughter to join their family if Violetta remains part of his. He is not unkind but he is firm: She must break ties with Alfredo. She does so to help the younger girl have a secure future.

Long story short — the opera has supertitles, so if you go see the Sunday show you'll get the details — leaving Alfredo breaks her heart and Alfredo's, and, after much tumult they reunite on her deathbed, with Alfredo's father tortured by what he has done to Violetta to ensure his own daughter a secure life.

The central themes here revolve around a woman's right to be her own person. No one, I should note, criticizes Alfredo for living with an unmarried woman, or Baron Douphol for being Violetta's lover at the start of the show: Violetta alone suffers for behaviors not so much as noticed in a man. Giorgio expresses surprise at the class in Violetta's character but makes it clear he must ensure a future for his birth daughter first.

It's a fitting choice for Women's History Month, although I saw no evidence the selection came by anything as coincidence. In the program, Opera Tampa suggests "the real villain" in this opera is tuberculosis. Throughout the show, however, both Violetta and Giorgio make it clear the real villain is society's attitude about women who make their own path.

As for the production itself, Lopez puts forth a magical, dazzling performance. This gifted soprano does not merely sing the role well; I found her acting divine. Austin came into his own in the second act, could not quite match her passion (and, more than once, could not make his tenor voice heard over the orchestra, although its volume remained constant and none of the other principals had such an issue.) Lapointe's rich baritone, by contrast, offered a striking counterpart to Violetta's, and his acting did as well.

Maestro Daniel Lipton conducted well; I am anxious to hear his Mozart in April. The sets, courtesy of Opera Carolina, have seen better days — both backdrops had gashes at the top. The final set, however, was simple and simply elegant: a bed, a couch, and candles at every level. 

It offered a lovely ending to a tragic opera.


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Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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