I’m not sure about some of the production of La Traviata I saw this weekend at the Seattle Opera.
I know that Joshua Dennis, in his Seattle Opera debut, was excellent as Alfredo, the love-struck book nerd. His sweet, buttery tenor captures perfectly the earnestness that gradually opens the heart of Violetta, the 'It' girl courtesan (sex worker?) who keeps her emotions off limits from both her clients and the superficial snotty snobs around her.
I know that soprano Corrine Winters, also in her Seattle Opera debut, as Violetta, ranges convincingly from sharp and fiery to meek and broken as bodily illness and social rejection catch up with her.
I know that baritone Weston Hurt as Alfredo’s bougie dad is just plain awesome (if also at sometimes awful).
And I know that part of the visual concept—a spare set of little more than one chair, a stack of books, and layers of velvety blood red curtains—works.
But I am not convinced that this visual concept works throughout. Like, what’s the deal with yanking down some of the curtains? Then broken-hearted Alfredo and Violetta miming like they are closing and opening those absent curtains? Is this supposed to symbolize something about the opening and closing of the heart? Or about private versus public performance of the emotions? Or exposing yourself to or closing yourself off from others? Of just not fitting in the way you’re supposed to? Is this production too subtle to understand or too ham-fisted? I don't know.
In Alexandre Dumas the younger’s The Lady of the Camellias, the source for Verdi’s 1853 opera, Violetta’s illness was consumption (tuberculosis). While the sunken cheeks, pale skin and coughing up of blood were common enough in 19th century life, they became a staple of Romantic literature, representing not only a medical condition but also often symbolizing either a too-sensitive “artistic” spirit (Keats and Chopin died of TB) or someone lost and outcast as a whore.
“La Traviata” is Italian for “fallen woman,” a 19th century term that refers to a woman who, having lost her virginity or had sex outside of marriage, has fallen from both God’s grace and the grace of decent society. But what if, this production seems to ask, the society from which a woman falls is indecent? Is it better to fall from a terrible world? And be in love with another outcast who is willing to tear the world around you down and build it back up for you with nothing but longing?
Maybe it does make sense.