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Review: LA Opera’s ‘La Traviata’ Underscores Verdi at His Most Provocative & Profound

(L-R) Liparit Avetisyan and Rachel Willis-Sørensen in LA Opera's 2024 production of "La Traviata" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA. Photo credit: Cory Weaver

The following is a review of the Thursday, April 18th performance of LA Opera’s La Traviata, which was conducted by Louis Lohraseb. The preceding and future performances were/will be conducted by James Conlon.

There is a scene in Pretty Woman when Richard Gere’s Edward Lewis takes Julia Roberts’ Vivian Ward to see Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata.

Although the film is now 34 years old, it serves as one of many examples that the notion of upper-class courtesans, including the men who fall for them, has ceased to fade in both fiction and non-fictional realms, instead remaining a steadfast storytelling tool that boasts an ineffable luster even if the outcome isn’t always auspicious. Certainly, it is the way in which we, the audience, are seduced en route to the denouement which carries the most import. This is precisely the case with LA Opera’s 2024 production of La Traviata, which, partly as a function of Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto, swoons with iridescent and gut-wrenching leading performances by soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen as the Parisian paramour and tenor Liparit Avetisyan as the lovestruck Alfredo. As a brilliant landscape is enveloped by Verdi’s compositions — bolstered by Louis Lohraseb’s baton-flitting elicitations — this Traviata makes for a tremendous addition to LA Opera’s legacy.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen (center) and company in LA Opera’s 2024 production of La Traviata at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA.

The plot of how Violetta Valéry and Alfredo Germont come to meet transpires with a sense of gentility even if the proceedings aren’t as gentle as hoped for the couple. At a lavish soirée hosted by Violetta, Alfredo, an admirer from afar, divulges his infatuated feelings, to the chagrin of her controlling lover Baron Douphol. Despite this surprising overture, Violetta, who is battling tuberculosis (a key revelation), initially rejects Alfredo’s advances to safeguard her freedom. Still, Act II tells of a transformed Violetta who is now content being with Alfredo even if she must liquidate her assets and standard of living. However, Alfredo’s arriving father, Giorgio Germont, spoils the fantasy of the against-all-odds union by appealing to Violetta’s so-called ignominy to stoke enough guilt in her to leave his son. This, of course, anguishes Alfredo who becomes consumed by an ardent desire and jealousy to have his amor back, in a rousingly hotblooded scene opposite the offended Douphol and a distraught Violetta, before the opera’s heart-rending finale.

(L-R) Kihun Yoon and Liparit Avetisyan in LA Opera’s 2024 production of La Traviata at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA. Photo credit: Cory Weaver

The direction by Shawna Lucey comes through with how at ease, but invariably disciplined, the cast is. While the stakes are high, there is much levity and revelry in La Traviata. Pushing the forbidden-lovers narrative forward is Willis-Sørensen who delightfully and dramatically picks up where she left off in her LA Opera debut as Desdemona in last year’s Otello. In the midst of her soft and sonorous vocals, Willis-Sørensen uses powerfully evocative expressions to strike the right balance between her character’s pursuit of passion and commitment to restraint; in other words, she is equally believable as being either receptive to a multitude of desirous gestures or choosing to reciprocate the affections of only one man as in when she exclaims, “Love me, Alfredo, love me as I love you.”

Alfredo is that man who, for better or worse, experiences both the thrills and unbridled pains of love. Avetisyan offers his Alfredo something that most performers might overlook — his courage to emote with the vulnerability of a suitor who will undoubtedly be harshly judged for courting a courtesan. And before the dusk of turmoil, Avetisyan captures the bountifulness of romance in the vitalizing vocal bouquet shared with Willis-Sørensen’s Violetta in the “Let’s drink from the joyful cups” brindisi, which is in grand emotional contrast to Alfredo’s profund unraveling in “You know this woman?”

Sarah Saturnino (center), flanked by Ryan Wolfe (left) and Alan Williams (right), in LA Opera’s 2024 production of La Traviata at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA. Photo credit: Cory Weaver

The opposition to Violetta and Alfredo’s relationship is effectively embodied with righteously motivated, although short-sighted, intentions by Kihun Yoon’s Giorgio, a father who essentially swears he is only considering the long-term social repercussions for his son and daughter. The South Korean baritone bowls over the crowd from the outset with his stirring reverberance, abundantly filling the Dorothy Chandler pavilion with pleasant-to-the-ear exhortations, which become difficult to resist, specifically in “Pure as an angel, God gave me a daughter.”

Furthermore, Patrick Blackwell makes for a respectable and redoubtable Baron; Alan Williams again makes a notable impression as the humane and reassuring Dr. Grenvil; Sarah Saturnino is endearing as Flora, a friend of Violetta with her own penchant for pleasure; Ryan Wolfe portrays a vivaciously carefree and tutu-sporting Marquis D’Obigny, lover to Flora; Julius Ahn is a worldly Gastone; and Deepa Johnny depicts a selfless and warmhearted Annina, the maid and confidant of Violetta.

The cast of LA Opera’s 2024 production of La Traviata at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA. Photo credit: Cory Weaver

As masterful as the performances are, the presentation of La Traviata is half the attraction. The party scenes, in particular, are lively, colorful, and signify an occasion not to be missed. Robert Innes Hopkins’ grand scenic design consists of vaulted windows inside a stately salon, a rose-festooned patio cover, and ravishing red walls surrounding a mirthful gathering; the versatile Hopkins has also fashioned his costumes to be a nod to classically Victorian visuals with modern insinuations. Davida Tkach’s lighting (Michael James Clark provided the original lighting design) duly spotlights Hopkins’ splendorously strewn shades without washing them out. The movement on stage conveys its own story, too, a testatment to John Heginbotham’s choreography which lends itself to a gracefulness — a memorable example being a spirited exhibition of dancing matadors with dual identities — that is unburdened by the solemn weight of the last few scenes. Last, but not least, Jeremy Frank’s choristers consistently gratify as well-sung heroes.

(Foreground, L-R) Rachel Willis-Sørensen and Liparit Avetisyan in LA Opera’s 2024 production of La Traviata at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA. Photo credit: Cory Weaver

As one of Verdi’s most renowned works, La Traviata touches on the inherent relativity of a morality when, crossed with the allure of a life-changing romance, takes on another dimension, completely swathing its two enamored protagonists. Cajoled by Lohraseb’s infectious fervor, Willis-Sørensen and Avetisyan rise to the challenge of taking LA Opera attendees on a sonically affecting ride, amid a chandeliered splendidness, that speaks to the unbounded nature of love, sacrifice, suffering, and forgiveness. Eliciting as much feeling as it does, this iteration of La Traviata should be celebrated with a toast of filled-to-the-brim wine glasses.

Three more performances of LA Opera’s 2024 production of La Traviata remain: on Sunday, April 21st at 2 pm, Wednesday, April 24th at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, April 27th at 7:30 pm. For further details and tickets, visit laopera.org.

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