This most famous and frequently preferred opera is full of marvelous music, singable tunes and a simple, sad story. Violetta is dying of tuberculosis (Paris, circa 1850). She is a famous and wealthy courtesan, and poor old Alfredo Germont is in love with her. He and the audience do not know in the beginning that she is doomed, but it becomes increasingly obvious as the opera progresses.
The goofy part of this opera (all of the stories of opera are pretty goofy) is that Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, persuades Violetta to give up Alfredo because otherwise it will ruin Giorgio’s daughter’s wedding. What? Talk about a dumb story. The audience wants Violetta to tell him to go to hell, but no, she agrees and breaks Alfredo’s heart (and mine). Violetta dies right there in front of us and the curtain falls.
All of the performers are really good — there’s not a mediocre one among them. But Albina Shagimuratova as Violetta Valéry was a musical and operatic miracle. Her disciplined soprano voice was pure and clean, her expressions round and nuanced, her delivery apparently effortless. Her high notes never quavered and her breath was perfectly controlled and seemingly endless. Inexperienced operagoers were astonished, and those with years of listening to the best were impressed.
Dimitri Pittas as Alfredo Germont was competent and convincing, but George Petean as his father, Giorgio Germont, nearly stole the second act from the other performers with his masculine bass-baritone as he tried to convince Violetta to give up her liaison with Alfredo. That he succeeded is a flaw in the story.
Eun Sun Kim conducted the splendid Houston Grand Opera orchestra from behind the stage, rather than in the traditional orchestra pit in front of the stage. And the director, Arin Arbus, produced many handsome stage pictures with limited space.
“La Traviata” is old hat, but HGO had the good sense to produce it in a convincing and musically inspiring manner, with excellent voices and perfect staging. It runs on Saturday and Nov. 1, 3, 5, 7 and 11.