Editor in Chief
A fatally ill courtesan falls in love with a poor man and spurns her financial backer, the Baron, in favor of living with him. After being threatened by her lover’s father, the courtesan returns to the Baron, where she dies unhappily and tragically.
If you were to read this plot line and guess it was 2001’s Moulin Rouge, you would be partially correct. It actually describes La Traviatta, the Verdi opera on which Moulin Rouge is based and which just opened at the Minnesota Opera last weekend.
I’m sure many readers are already recoiling at the idea of going to an opera, and share the opinion that opera is either incomprehensible, outdated, or just plain boring. The fact is, there is no good reason not to see one of Europe’s most enduring and unique art forms, and I can give you seven reasons to see La Traviatta and other upcoming shows at the Minnesota Opera.
1) The production: The number one enjoyment factor I get out of Minnesota Opera productions is not the music or the story line, as excellent as they are. I love the opera’s production team, and I fully believe that they are doing the best production work of any theatrical company in the Twin Cities. Each show utilizes gorgeous lighting, transparent scrims that give the effect of watching live paintings, cleverly coded and historically accurate costumes, and some of the most innovative set pieces around (for example, for Mary Stuart, the main set piece was an intricately carved ceiling from which all other set features descended. It was surprising, effective, and brilliant).
2) The music: Opera is first and foremost about music, and we are lucky to live in an area with so many extraordinary musicians. Minnesota Opera’s orchestra is always excellent, and opera productions are one of the few kinds of shows that can succeed in the otherwise sound-absorbing Ordway Theater.
La Traviatta features extraordinary baritone Stephen Powell as Giorgio Germont, male protagonist Alfredo Germont’s (played by tenor Bruno Ribiero, also good but occasionally pitchy) father. Courtesan Violetta Valery, played by Elizabeth Futral, tends to use an overenthusiastic vibratto, but has some lovely duet moments with Powell and Ribiero, especially in Act 3. The company is excellent in this production.
Mary Stuart ended several weeks ago, but I have to mention the extraordinary coloraturas playing Mary and her cousin Elizabeth I in that production. They were distinct, on point, and incredibly moving. Missing out on art like theirs is a shame, and I pity anyone who never gets the chance to experience it.
3) The Minnesota Opera Company: Like so many other cultural experiences in the Twin Cities, we often forget just how good our opera is. When I attended Mary Stuart, I sat next to two Bostonians who flew from Massachussetts for one night in order to attend our opera, and it sounded like it was a common occurrence for them. I am sure many people across the country are doing the same to see La Traviatta. We have one of the top opera companies in the country, and supporting it is not only enjoyable but a truly Minnesotan thing to do.
4) The staging: Comprehension of a foreign language production is greatly helped by good staging. The Minnesota Opera is improving theirs, and La Traviatta features a few lovely moments, including a scene in the first act highly reminiscent of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and a fiery ballet scene at the end of Act II that is unexpected but lends extra depth to a passage that otherwise would have simply been a bunch of boring matadors telling a story.
5) Cultural context: If you’ve made it this far, you can see that I have already cited several other plays, at least two movies, dance, paint, fashion, and more in describing this opera. Opera is truly a hybridized art and it pops up all over the place, and the better your knowledge of it is the more you will understand the books you read, movies or television shows you watch, the music you listen to, and more. It’s an entire liberal arts education in a two hour package.
6) A change of scene: I know how boring it gets to sit on campus every night, watching bad made-for-TV movies on your tiny dorm television, eating bad greasy pizza and seeing the same people everywhere you go. Why not get off campus into St. Paul to explore an art form you probably know little about and experience a new group of peers? Opera attracts diverse audiences with interesting demographics, and participating in such an audience is always a unique experience.
7) It’s not expensive: The number one complaint I hear from students who want to see opera but don’t is that they feel it is too expensive. That is simply not true.
The Minnesota Opera is making an explicit push to make opera more affordable for college students, and if you’re savvy about buying tickets you can do very well. Weekday tickets can be purchased for as little as $18, and if you participate in the Tempo program you can get packages of three operas per season with decent seating for a total of $80. You probably spend way more than that in bad takeout each semester; why not put a little of that money towards your cultural enhancement?
A final item of note for readers aged over 21 is the new opera sponsored club Tempo, through which you pay a $40 membership fee and receive huge ticket discounts, invitations to unique opera events (such as the recent Spectacular Spectacular held in February) and educational opportunitites to enhance your opera viewing pleasure. Visit www.mnopera.org/MemberBenefits for more information.