In Sickness and In Health -Virginia Opera Celebrates 170 Years of Verdi’s La Traviata

Alfredo embraces a dying Violetta (Choi and Sutton) in VA Opera's "La Traviata". 3/1/2023. Photo credit: Dave Pearson

Norfolk, VA – It has been 170 years since Giuseppe Verdi‘s “La Traviata” was introduced to the world in Venice. It is based on “La Dame aux Camélias”, a play by Alexandre Dumas (“The Count of Monte Cristo”) which was adapted to opera in the form of an Italian libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave. I had the opportunity to catch Virginia Opera’s presentation of this renowned work at their student night and was blown away. Iit never ceases to amaze me how the art of the past can be so relevant today. There is a reason pieces like this stand the test of time, we can relate! 

In a nutshell, it is a story of love, death, despair, and everything in between. In 2023, we call that life. The oepra kicks off at a high class party. Violetta (Brandie Inez Sutton), a courtesan, knows her health is declining as her lifestyle has taken its toll (there was no cure for tuberculosis in the 19th century) is mingling with the upper crust, doing what courtesans do. A young man, Alfredo (Won Whi Choi), has taken a fancy to Violetta and has been asking lots of questions about her. The upper crust is amused by Alfredo’s naivete and asks him to toast the event. He raises his glass to true love, Violetta responds with praise of free love!  

Violetta makes her entrance. VA Opera’s La Traviata in Norfolk, VA. Photo credit: Dave Pearson

When Violetta falls ill, all leave except for Alfredo. He pleads for her love, however, Violetta initially shuns his advances (for fear it will complicate her short life?). She gives him a flower and tells Alfredo to return when it fades. He realizes, “There is still a chance!”. We learn that Violetta is torn, as she does not want to give up her courtesan life, but also feels a need to be loved by one (and Alfredo IS the one). 

I still consider myself new to opera and am learning more every day. Opera is amazing, as the symphony provides the music, the voices are one with the symphony. Sutton and Choi did a wonderful job of not only vocalizing the joy, the pain, the amusement, and the disappointment, but they acted the feelings as well (What do you feel when you look at the images?). This opera also had a powerful choral element accompanying the characters and the orchestra. 

As fate would have it, true love wins over money and the life of a courtesan. Violetta decides to give up what she has to be with Alfredo. Her love is so deep, she starts to sell all she owns to help live a comfortable life with Alfredo. Alfredo feels badly and leaves immediately to find ways to raise money in Paris. 

Germont and Violetta in La Traviata on 3/1/2023. Photo credit: Dave Pearson

They say those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it. Alfredo’s father, Germont (Grant Youngblood), shows up and all but demands Violetta end the relationship, as it was destroy his reputation and likely harm his daughter’s upcoming marriage. Violetta’s heart is broken and pleads with Germont to reconsider. He soon realizes she is not a gold digger, but indeed loves his son. He still convinces her to put her love aside and leave Alfredo. Again, the vocals (baritone) killed it. Youngblood made us feel the pain through his expressions and intonation. You could see him (the character) analyzing Violetta’s every note to conclude she did not have evil intentions. Sadly, she was unable (at this time) to sway his desire for him to abandon his son. Alfredo’s father was not the first, nor will he be the last parent to mess things up for his children.

As she is writing her farewell, Alfredo returns. She puts on a pleasant face before departing to go to a ball. Once gone, she has the letter delivered. Alfredo is furious and heads out to the masquerade ball to get his revenge on what he thinks is Violetta’s betrayal. 

La Traviata First Half Gallery 

The attendees at the ball show no mercy. They believe Alfredo’s naivete has been rewarded by Violetta’s departure and make fun of him. It appears Violetta has returned to her ways and attends the ball with her new lover, the Baron (Erik Grendahl). 

Alfredo also shows up at the ball and you can imagine, is not too happy with Violetta. In a gambling challenge, Alfredo cleans the Baron’s house at the gaming table (at least he is  lucky at something). When all leave, Violetta and Alfredo fight, ending with Alfredo declaring his separation from her and throwing his winnings at her.

The Baron, Violetta, and Alfredo at the Ball. La Traviata on 3/1/2023. Photo credit: Dave Pearson

At this point there is an interesting twist. Remember Alfredo’s father? They guy responsible for the separation? He gets mad at his son for his bad behavior (that would have never been an issue had he not gotten involved). Perhaps he realized Violetta was really a good person. Not only was his father upset, but the Baron is as well, challenging Alfredo to a duel. 

The curtain falls…

Life is too short. Violetta lies on her bed dying. Her maid (Kaileigh Riess) is watching over her as the doctor and friend (Jeremy Harr) breaks the news that she has only a few hours to live. Lying on her bed, she reads a letter from Alfredo’s father, telling her that Alfredo was not injured in the duel. He tells Violetta that it was he that requested Violetta’s departure and now Alfredo wished to rejoin her in her last days. 

Love is a powerful thing. It is now, and always has been. Alfredo arrives as she is near death. His presence brings life back to her dying body. She is energized and alive once again. Choi and Sutton nailed the reunion!! How hard it must be to show both joy and pain, life while dying. They pulled this off flawlessly!! 

As expected, the new life is short lived and is merely a moment of happiness before the inevitable. Violetta takes one last stand, Sutton’s sings one last note in the form of a dying breath. The story ends… The woman has fallen. 

Alfredo and Violetta, La Traviata by VA Opera. Photo credit: Dave Pearson

As I left night, I could not help but think that I had heard a similar story many times before. Two names that come to mind are Julia Roberts and Richard Gere… this cast made that performance look like amateur hour (can either of them even sing?). My heart was racing. An artform that I had paid not attention to until a little over a year ago has swept me away. Where has opera been all my life?

With that said, I must say, I am impressed with how Virginia Opera gets the word out to keep opera alive. The performance I attended was, by most accounts, the last dress rehearsal prior to opening night. Knowing opera is not widely viewed by youth and may be hard to convince parents to attend, Virginia Opera opens up this dress rehearsal to the schools in the area (I love this!!). What is fun is that the schools also compete with each other, with the school bringing the most students receiving an autographed opera poster to hang on the school walls… to show spirit, and perhaps share a love of opera with the next generation. 

La Traviata Second Half Gallery

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La Traviata Cast 

Brandie Inez Sutton, Violetta
Won Whi Choi, Alfredo
Grant Youngblood, Giorgio Germont
Fran Daniel Laucerica, Gastone
Erik Grendahl, Baron Douphol
Conner Grieff, Marchese d’Obigny
Jeremy Harr, Doctor Grenville
Taylor-Alexis DuPont, Flora
Kaileigh Riess, Annina
Ryan Lustgarten, Giuseppe
Logan Kenison, Commissioner
Kyle White, Flora’s Servant

Adam Turner, Conductor
Tara Faircloth, Director
Richmond Symphony, Orchestration

Show Dates:

March 3, 4, 5 – Norfolk, VA
March 11, 12 – Fairfax, VA
March 17, 19 – Richmond, VA