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Worlds collide in HOT’s ‘Traviata’

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Alfredo, left, played by Eric Margiore, and Violetta, played by Luz del Alba, rehearsed Monday for Hawaii Opera Theatre's presentation of "La Traviata" at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.
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Even before the red curtain rises, the stage is awash in red light and adorned with red chandeliers. But the heroine of "La Traviata," a courtesan, the "fallen woman" of the title, enters in purest white, like the most chaste of brides. Those opening moments sum up the plot before the first note is sung.

It was evident Friday night that HOT’s artistic team — led by director Henry Akina, scenic designer Peter Dean Beck and conductor Tyrone Paterson — has created a world laced with the symbolism of dreams, telling the story not as it was, but as we remember it to have been, a poignant memory of a story so familiar — forbidden true love and lovers parted by death — it seems to be about people we once knew, or perhaps once were.

HAWAII OPERA THEATRE

"La Traviata" by Giuseppe Verdi

» Performances: 4 p.m. today and 7 p.m. Tuesday

» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall

» Tickets: Box Office 596-7858 or 800-836-7372

» Prices: $42 to $120; students $20

Every scene yields delightful touches worth noting: Beck floods the world of the courtesan with reds and blacks, the respectable world with blues and beiges, and Akina has parties emerge from tableaux, like pictures come to life. The courtesan Violetta and her lover, Alfredo, live amid warm sunny light, but when Alfredo’s father, Germont, intrudes, a scrim lowers, casting a shadow on their happy hideaway. When Violetta renounces Alfredo’s love, she appears in gilded black, but in her final scene, the red light shifts to blue and she reappears in white, her sins forgiven , ready for death.

HOT’s production prompted a well-deserved standing ovation, partly for its design but primarily for its excellent music by singers and orchestra. Perhaps even more so than most operas, "La Traviata" tells its story almost entirely through music. Almost every scene reveals why this work endures in the repertoire — Verdi’s music tells the story so exquisitely, you hardly need subtitles.

HOT’s production started with opening-night nerves and a rough first act but settled into uniformly strong performances by Act II.

A lyric soprano from Uruguay, Luz del Alba (Violetta) has a very large voice, almost too large for the vocal pyrotechnics the role requires, and her voice fit the role beautifully. Her uppermost range is revealing signs of strain, but her ringing tone and excellent control conveyed beautifully the dramatic nuance of each line.

In his debut with HOT, Eric Margiore delivered a strong, very appealing performance as Alfredo with his dark good looks and excellent, classic young lyric tenor voice.

The contrast between Margiore’s youthful voice and del Alba’s more mature voice implied a greater difference in age between their characters than is usual for this opera, but it nonetheless worked, shifting other relationships, as well: Violetta’s true vocal match was Alfredo’s father, Germont, cast perfectly and sung brilliantly by Jake Gardner, whose wonderfully rich baritone made him an exceptionally sympathetic villain.

The balance of voices in this production focused the tale less on the lovers than on the clash between the worlds of courtesans and respectability, with Violetta caught between.

Akina wove in an interesting sub plot by making Flora, Violetta’s fellow courtesan, a viper rather than a friend. To that end, Flora’s party features a gypsy dance not with the usual tambourines but with riding crops, adding a hint of sadomasochism that highlights the contrast between the types of courtesans Flora and Violetta represent. The role was very nicely acted and sung by Mary Chesnut Hicks, a local artist and HOT regular who is moving into more lead roles and is worth noting.

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