Many operatic works have great relevance today because they tackle familiar themes of love, family, and loss. Giuseppe Verdi’s three-act opera La Traviata, presented by Arizona Opera at Symphony Hall from January 25 to 27, is one of them, and continues to have the power to enthrall audiences more than 150 years after its debut.
Based on a novel and play by Alexandre Dumas, La Traviata tells the story of the turbulent romance between courtesan Violetta and her paramour Alfredo, who face resistance from family, social, and class barriers, and her chronic health problems.
Arizona Opera President and General Director Joseph Specter said many of the show’s main themes continue to speak to audiences today.
“It just goes to the eternal aspect of human nature and relationships. Then, you lay on top of that some of the most beautiful music you could ever possibly imagine to drive the impact of that story,” Specter said.
The lead roles will be portrayed by international-caliber artists from around the country while students from the company's Studio Artists program will take on supporting roles
Vanessa Vasquez, one of two actresses playing Violetta, is originally from the Valley and will be making her Arizona debut with La Traviata. The soprano was a national winner at the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions in 2017 and took first place in the Phoenix Opera’s 2016 Southwest Vocal Competition.
Growing up, Vasquez sang in church and took choir from the time she was in elementary school. In high school, she got involved in musical theater, playing characters such as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. While attending the Academy of Vocal Arts, she took on roles such as Gilda in Rigoletto, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, and Mimi in La Boheme. She was set to play Violetta in an academy production of La Traviata but became ill right before opening night. She said because of this, her Arizona debut with the show has even more significance for her.
Vasquez says Violetta has been one of her most challenging roles because she is onstage for almost the entirety of the production, either singing or interacting with other characters.
“I think that comes with an immense sense of responsibility because you have to give every aspect of yourself as an artist, mind, body, and soul,” Vasquez says.
Alongside that difficulty, the singer believes she has been able to flesh out Violetta more than her previous roles.
“I feel like with other characters, I haven’t been able to provide as much depth to a character. She’s completely three-dimensional,” Vasquez said.
Recently, the Arizona Opera has been working to engage different communities by offering both more traditional and unconventional works. It started the season with Maria de Los Buenos Aires and Charlie Parker’s Yardbird and will end with La Traviata, Silent Night, and The Marriage of Figaro. Specter said diverse programming has helped to attract new audiences to the opera and created different dialogues.
“We are bringing people together, and we’re able to create conversations that are qualitatively different … It’s that social context where we get to have conversations about the art, and bringing new people into the fold means those conversations become much richer,” Specter said.
Leading up its productions, Arizona Opera often holds supplemental programming that gives audiences more background on a work or introduces them to other operatic pieces. During production week, the opera company will have a “Say Hello to Opera” night with aria performances from University of Arizona students on Monday, January 21, in Oro Valley and a Student Night on Wednesday, January 23, at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. As part of Student Nights, local students have a chance to see the final dress rehearsal for a reduced cost.
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Specter says the program helps to introduce students to opera and potentially create life-long viewers.
“I think that they don’t necessarily have this preconceived notion that opera isn’t an art form for them. It’s so exciting, and it’s so much fun to see that because it tells you that this piece has all of that power to connect, and it gives you such a sense of fulfillment."
Say Hello to Opera: La Traviata. 2 p.m. Monday, January 21, at Oro Valley City Council Chambers, 11000 North La Canada Drive, Oro Valley; 602-266-7464; azopera.org. Free admission.
Student Night: La Traviata. 7 p.m. Wednesday, January 23, at Symphony Hall, 75 North Second Street; 602-266-7464; azopera.org. $5 for students and $10 for chaperones via azopera.org.