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REVIEW: Everything Great About Minnesota Opera’s La Traviata

Jésus León and Nicole Cabell star as doomed lovers Alfredo and Violetta in Minnesota Opera’s La Traviata, now playing at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, MN. Photo by Dan Norman.


Editor’s Note: This is the second of two reviews looking at Minnesota Opera’s production of La Traviata, which opened on Saturday at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota. As part of this experiment, Basil Considine explores the same show from two different perspectives: a focused critique of the artistic vision and implementation, and this more straightforward review of the audience experience. 


Why go see La Traviata? It’s only the most-performed opera in the world. It’s only one of the inspirations for Moulin Rouge and Pretty Woman. Heck, in the latter movie, Julia Roberts’ character goes to the opera for the first time and watches La Traviata, an experience that makes her cry with joy. It’s also been used in commercials from everything from pasta to beer to cars to chips. If you’ve never been to an opera house before, you might be surprised at how much of the opera you know just from films and television.

The magical embrace between Alfredo (Jésus León) and Violetta (Nicole Cabell). Photo by Dan Norman.

To perform this work, Minnesota Opera assembled a fine cast of singers for opening night. The A Cast featured Nicole Cabell as Violetta, Jesús León as Alfredo Germont, and Joo Won Kang as Giorgio Germont. (As is often the case in opera, an “A Cast” of leads alternates performances with a “B Cast”, allowing principal singers to rest their voices.) Other principals included Bergen Baker as Flora, Nicholas Davis as Baron Douphol, and Wm. Clay Thompson as Doctor Grenvil.

Something that this cast has in spades is stage presence. Cabell brilliantly captures the larger-than-life persona of the charming courtesan, showing both the strength of personality and physical frailty whose duality is so key to Violetta. The stage chemistry between her Violetta and Jesús León’s Alfredo is radiant, and the tension and anguish when Alfredo’s father Giorgio (a powerfully voiced Joo Won Kang) asks Violetta to abandon her lover is grippingly palpable.

A meet-the-family moment does not go well between Violetta Valéry (Nicole Cabell) and Giorgio Germont (Joo Won Kang). Photo by Dan Norman.

For some people, going to the opera is about the transcendent experience of taking in the orchestra, the singing, the sets, and everything else for however many hours it runs. For others, it’s about the scenes and songs that you remember – that stick in your head well after the curtain has come down. On Saturday, the latter included Cabell’s gripping performance of “Sempre libera”, León’s effusive “De’ miei bollenti spiriti”, and the extended Act II, Scene 1 duet between Cabell and Joo Won Kang.

The 10 most-performed operas in the world in 2018-2019, courtesy of Opera Base. While Giuseppe Verdi seems underrepresented in the Top 10, his other operas make many more appearances in the Top 30.

Before You Go

Minnesota Opera’s production of La Traviata has a single intermission after Act II, Scene 1. (There are also two short pauses for scene changes.) Advance ordering of intermission refreshments is strongly recommended.

Trivia

  • This is Minnesota Opera’s sixth production of La Traviata. The company previously produced this opera in its 2010-2011, 2002–2003, 1996-1997, 1985-1986, and 1978-1979 seasons.
  • The story for La Traviata is based on the novel La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils. Long before “Hollywood endings” ended tragedies on lighter notes, Verdi and librettist Francesco Maria Piave altered the story’s ending to add a dramatic (and romantic) last meeting between the doomed lovers.
  • When performing as Violetta, Maria Callas famously stopped her last line mid-word, freezing with her eyes open – to great dramatic effect.

Minnesota Opera’s production of La Traviata plays through May 19. Cast A, including Nicole Cabell as Violetta, Jesús León as Alfredo, and Joo Won Kang as Giorgio, performs May 9, 11, 14, and 19. Cast B, including Cecilia Violetta López as Violetta, Stephen Martin as Alfredo, and Youngjoo An as Giorgio, performs May 12, 16, and 18.

Basil Considine

Basil Considine is the Performing Arts Editor and Senior Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Arts Reader. He was previously the Resident Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and remains an occasional contributing writer for The Boston Musical Intelligencer and The Chattanoogan. He holds a PhD in Music and Drama from Boston University, an MTS in Sacred Music from the BU School of Theology, and a BA in Music and Theatre from the University of San Diego.

Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017. He was previously the Regional Governor for the National Opera Association's North Central Region.
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