Tuesday Night At The Opera: 'La Traviata'
UPDATE, 9/28/21, 1:30 p.m.: This performance of "La Traviata" will not be broadcast on September 28 due to the current impasse between the San Antonio Symphony and the local musicians' union. Stay tuned for a new broadcast date.
On September 28 at 7:00 p.m., Texas Public Radio's KPAC 88.3 FM presents a special Tuesday Night at the Opera broadcast featuring Opera San Antonio's 2018 production of “La Traviata.” Adapted from a novel by Alexandre Dumas, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera is today one of the most popular operas ever written.
"La Traviata," about the star-crossed love between a Parisian courtesan and an upper middle-class gentleman, was a bold choice for the stage when it premiered in Venice, in 1853. As conductor James Conlon noted to NPR, its main character is a very popular courtesan—some folks might even call her a “woman of the night,” or a prostitute. Conlon goes on to say that for the mid-1800s, "That's unbelievable, to present that woman in public, and to make her the sympathetic character."
But not surprising, according to the San Antonio Symphony’s music director emeritus, Sebastian Lang-Lessing, who once told TPR the honesty in Verdi’s music speaks to the human soul.
Below is an interview with Opera San Antonio's Music Director, Francesco Milioto, as he looks back on "Traviata" and forward to Opera San Antonio's next production in October 2021, featuring "Don Giovanni."
Nathan Cone: During the middle part of his career, Giuseppe Verdi brought these operas full of rich character like "La Traviata." They were meant to appeal to the common folk of the time, [he was] writing about everyday people. Do Verdi's operas resonate the same way with people who see them today?
Francesco Milioto: That is really an excellent question, Nathan. And I really do think that this opera and and this story is relatable to the audience of today. Of course, Verdi writes incredible, incredible music, but that is inspired by the story, the relationships of the characters, the characters themselves, and the conflict and resolution, no matter how bad at the end of this particular opera it is! I think that, you know, a lot of people don't think about how hard Verdi worked and his librettist, Piave, in this case, worked at choosing the subject matter. It could take years before a libretto and the characters were refined enough so that they would have the emotional effect and story that Verdi wanted to tell. So... you don't have to particularly be these characters to relate to them in these situations. But there's definitely all of the relatable human emotions and situations. There's of course, the main emotion of love. There is definitely remorse. There's jealousy, you know, a relationship between two people that come from completely different worlds. Another significant theme, of course, especially for Verdi in his life and his experience, he's known for writing father-daughter relationships. And in this case, Germont is not Violetta's father, but as she says as she makes it to the end of their duet [she] does say, you know, "please hug me as a daughter." That is something that Verdi was incredibly gifted at writing. So I really do think that the the journey of the story that you take on with these characters and the empathy that you build all the way across this opera is something that is absolutely relatable to people of today. And I think there's just timeless themes. For me, those are the takeaways. And I think it's really, really about the journey that you go through with these characters that people will take away and will love forever. So for me, these stories are absolutely relatable today.
Nathan: What do you remember most about conducting this particular performance of "La Traviata" at the Tobin Center?
Francesco: You know, this was my debut with Opera San Antonio and my first time in front of the San Antonio Symphony. So I absolutely remember being very, very excited about this particular production and working with Garmett [Bruce, stage director] and and meeting [Opera San Antonio board chair] Blair Labatt and getting to know the company. And Loren [Meeker, director], it was really just an incredible, incredible experience for me. And of course, meeting Amanda Woodbury and having this be her debut of Violetta, but also my very close friend, David Portillo, was singing Alfredo for the first time. So, you know, those things made it a really, really special relationship. And for me, also having an orchestra that plays as an orchestra together all the time play an opera with an incredible amount of enthusiasm, for me is always exciting. So that was definitely a highlight, but in general was just just a wonderful, wonderful time. And to get to know the city of San Antonio and walk the Riverwalk and eat the food here, it's really was it was just a wonderful experience for me. And I'll always remember that as something special.
Nathan: Tell me a bit about the production of "Don Giovanni" that will take place in October. There's not going to be any intermissions, right? Is that due to Covid reasons, like to shorten the performance time, or is it an artistic choice?
Francesco: You know, the plan for "Don Giovanni" was definitely to be a full production, but of course, it's due to Covid reasons, we had made the decision earlier to reduce the opera to about 90 minutes and not have an intermission for the safety of our audiences and all of our performers and artists, and our teams and crews. So that was definitely a decision that was made out of Covid and not for an artistic choice-- although I believe the result is going to be incredibly, incredibly artistic!
Nathan: Now at this time, we're also coming out, maybe... Coming out of a pandemic that's led some audiences to be hesitant to return to theaters. What are your hopes for Opera San Antonio in the coming year and beyond?
Francesco: You know, Nathan, I'm I'm very confident that soon we will be able to say the pandemic is something of the past. But I think for the next little while, we are going to have to deal with Covid. But I do want to say the experience that I had in San Antonio with "Lucia" this past spring was something that really did bring me a lot of confidence for the future, what we did to establish health protocols and what we did for each other, to keep each other safe and bring this wonderful production in a safe manner to the audiences of San Antonio that were just unbelievably enthusiastic about seeing us on stage, it really brought me a lot of confidence.
So for me, I think that if we continue to do what we're doing at Opera San Antonio and we continue to bring the highest quality opera that we can to our wonderful patrons and an audience in San Antonio at the Tobin Center, I think I think the future is bright for us. And I'm very proud of the way that Loren and the company are navigating all of these tough waters... and that brings me a lot of confidence. So I really hope that that feeling and that communication of of health and safety and and artistry is something that will encourage people to fill the Tobin Center and every theater that we have in San Antonio.
The performance you'll hear on KPAC 88.3 FM features Opera San Antonio, joined by the San Antonio Symphony, conducted by Francesco Milioto. Amanda Woodbury sings the role of Violetta, David Portillo is Alfredo Germont, and Weston Hurt sings Giorgio Germont. Orit Eylon is Flora, and Kara Covey sings Annina. Curtain time is 7:00 p.m.