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Verdi’s La Traviata—with a Twist

CFA Fringe Festival produces lush weave of classic opera, play, readings

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A passionate innovator himself, Giuseppe Verdi most likely would have approved. Tonight, the College of Fine Arts presents his beloved opera La Traviata as the culmination of its 16th Fall Fringe Festival—but with a twist.

Throughout this year’s festival, audiences have been treated to several different interpretations of the Alexander Dumas novel Lady of the Camellias. Tonight’s version offers a reimagining of the Romantic composer’s opera by weaving in excerpts from a stage play and readings from the novel. Presented on a mostly bare Boston University Theatre mainstage, this Traviata concert performance will probe the opera’s range of emotions “without chandeliers,” says musical director William Lumpkin, a CFA associate professor and Opera Institute music director. “It’s a new exploration of the story.”

Verdi aficionados will not feel shortchanged; the performance will feature all of La Traviata except for Act II, Scene I—amounting to 85 percent of the full libretto, says Lumpkin. But in that scene’s place will be one plucked from Camille, a contemporary take on the Dumas story by the late British playwright Pam Gems. A full production of Camille preceded Traviata in this year’s Fringe Festival lineup. Tonight’s one-time only opera–stage play hybrid will constitute a grand finale in the festival’s telling of the story of the tragic complications of the mid-19th-century love affair of a courtesan dying of consumption and a country nobleman. “The Gems play was in the small black box theater,” says Lumpkin. “With Traviata we bust the doors open and go down to the big house.”

Boston University BU, College of Fine Arts CFA, La Traviata, BU Theatre, Fall Fringe Festival

Soprano Ruth Erde Hartt (CFA ‘11) and tenor Heejae Kim (CFA'14) in CFA's La Traviata.

In migrating from the theater’s smaller Lane Comley Studio 210 to the mainstage, the Camille cast will now be joined by an array of student performers from the School of Music, the School of Theatre, the Opera Institute, the BU Chamber Orchestra, and the BU Chamber Chorus. Sung in Italian with English supertitles, the production runs two hours, with two 15-minute intermissions.

Nathan Troup (CFA’04), a CFA Opera Institute lecturer, and Judy Braha (CFA’08), a CFA assistant professor of directing and acting, are the production’s stage directors. Braha directed the full production of the Gems play earlier this month. Troup sees the Fringe La Traviata as a full-bodied convergence of different interpretations of the Dumas story, which is what this year’s festival is all about. This is not a cut-and-paste job, he says. It’s a seamless narrative “experienced through different characters.” Verdi’s Alfredo and Violetta, the operatic incarnation of the courtesan Marguerite and her lover Anand in the original story, will be sung by three pairs of Opera Institute students.

Boston University BU, College of Fine Arts CFA, La Traviata, BU Theatre, Fall Fringe Festival

William Lumpkin conducts the BU Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Chorus tonight in La Traviata, the third and final production in this year's annual Fall Fringe Festival.

The stripped-down staging poses challenges for both cast and audience that a full production with lavish scenery does not. “It’s a bare-bones situation,” notes soprano Ruth Erde Hartt (CFA’13), one of the three Violettas. “That changes the memorization process—the set is a useful tool” for learning the part.

“The production makes onlookers experience La Traviata in a new way, which hasn’t been done with the tried-and-true opera,” says Christopher Hutchinson (CFA’14), a tenor and one of the Alfredos. “This is something different, and fitting—Verdi himself always tried to make his work fresh and interesting.”

The other Violettas will be performed by sopranos Celeste Fraser (CFA’14) and Ji Eun Park (CFA’15). In addition to Hutchinson, the role of Alfredo will be sung by tenors Heejae Kim (CFA’14) and Christopher MacRae (CFA’14).

There will be a pre-show talk at 6:30 p.m. with opera historian Philip Gossett, who will discuss the two versions of La Traviata that Verdi composed between 1853 and 1854. General editor of The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, Gossett recently retired as Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor of Music at the University of Chicago.

Boston University BU, College of Fine Arts CFA, La Traviata, BU Theatre, Fall Fringe Festival

Christopher Hutchinson (CFA‘14) (left) and Ji Eun Park (CFA'15) as Alfredo and Violetta in CFA's La Traviata.

La Traviata is part of the Spirit of Verdi, CFA’s yearlong salute to Guiseppe Verdi, commemorating the bicentennial of his birth. It will include performances by several guest artists, outreach efforts, and other programs recognizing not just the composer’s musical contributions, but his commitment to social justice.

All Fringe Festival productions tie into CFA’s keyword initiative, a program now in its second year. The 2012–2013 keyword, resilience, explores the buoyancy of the human spirit in times of war, tragedy, hardship, suffering, and oppression.

La Traviata will be performed on the mainstage of the BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston, tonight, Friday, October 26, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7 general admission; one free ticket with BU ID, subject to availability. Purchase tickets here or call 617-933-8600. To get to the BU Theatre, take the T Green Line E trolley to Symphony or the Orange Line to Mass Avenue.

1 Comments

One Comment on Verdi’s La Traviata—with a Twist

  • CFA Staffer on 10.26.2012 at 2:25 pm

    Need another reason to attend? A portion of the proceeds from this event will benefit The Greater Boston Food Bank.

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