IU Opera Theater launches 60th anniversary season with 19th-century love story "La Traviata"
Indiana University's Opera Theater kicks off its fall season, the first production in the 60th anniversary season and the 400th overall production, with Giuseppe Verdi's widely loved -- and once scandalous -- cross-class romance La Traviata.
The opera is staged by noted director Tito Capobianco, a well-known, colorful figure who spent years working with Luciano Pavarotti and was general manager and artistic director of the prestigious Pittsburgh Opera. C. David Higgins, chair of the IU Jacobs School of Music's Department of Opera Studies, designed the sets, and Grammy-winning Jacobs Professor David Effron, chair of the Department of Conducting, will conduct.
Capobianco, who has maintained a close relationship with the Jacobs School since his first visit in 1960, is accustomed to making news with his productions. His 1957 production of Tosca at Teatro Argentino de La Plata (in Argentina) was the first to set the production in modern times, something that made headlines across the globe.
For the IU production of La Traviata, which will be performed at 8 p.m. on Sept. 26-27 and Oct. 3-4, Capobianco said he kept in mind that today's audiences have far shorter attention spans than audiences of even 10 years ago. "Everything is so fast now, through television, movies, marketing . . ." said Capobianco. "You have to keep the people's attention. I want to make the audiences forget everything else. I want to make people feel love inside, feel passion inside, feel honor inside."
Capobianco and scenic artist Higgins have collaborated on a brand-new set full of strategically placed mirrors -- including mirrored floors, walls, ceilings and chandeliers -- that reflect the frivolous, vanity-filled life of a Parisian courtesan. "The mirrors are also a reflection of the morals and taboos of a certain age," said Higgins. "Tito believes that by using the mirrors, everything becomes ephemeral. Things are not really what they appear to be."
"They say 'when you want to change a person, put a mirror in front of him,'" said Capobianco. "Like the mirror -- cold, reflecting but not absorbing light -- the people in this special society are cold and superficial. Nothing touches them. Except for Violetta. Love changes her." The front part of the set never changes, said Capobianco, while other portions take new forms, creating a feeling of ambiguity about whether events are taking place now or happened in the past.
This libretto, by Francesco Maria Piave, is based on the novel Lady of the Camelias by novelist Alexandre Dumas. Capobianco chose a traditional interpretation of the opera, based on Dumas' real-life love story, set in 19th-century Paris. "The environment is by no means literal, but it does give a sense of place," said Higgins. Rather than using costumes from the period, costumes will echo the basic silhouette of the period, with a more haute couture look, Higgins said.
La Traviata, an "affair to remember," is now one of the top-three most-performed operas -- after Madama Butterfly and La Bohème, according to Opera America -- and it was Verdi's favorite of his works. When the opera premiered in Venice in 1853, La Traviata (translated, it means "the woman who strayed") was received with disgust: critics at the time decried the sympathetic character of Violetta, a beautiful, ailing courtesan who unexpectedly finds love with Alfredo, a man from a lower class.
"La Traviata was scandalous at the time," said Higgins. "The performers wore contemporary, not historic dress, which was unheard of."
Capobianco plans to return to Bloomington to mount one opera each year, a relationship he began with the school about seven years ago. His passion for stage direction is continually inspired by the talent he finds all over the world, including the talented opera students at IU.
"How can you be an opera director if you're not in love with the singing human voice?" he said. "It's the most beautiful sound created by God. No sound on earth can be compared with a beautiful singing human voice."
Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m., Sept. 26-27, and Friday and Saturday, Oct. 3-4, at the Musical Arts Center (on Jordan Avenue)
To learn more about the IU Jacobs School of Music, go to http://music.indiana.edu.
About IU Opera Theater
For six decades, the glory of opera has been celebrated year-round at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, with at least seven productions staged annually in the Musical Arts Center (MAC). The innovative productions of IU Opera Theater, sung by students, have won international critical acclaim. While at Indiana University, these young artists are taught by a faculty widely considered the best in the nation, if not the world, and which Beverly Sills once called "absolutely mind-boggling." For more information about IU Opera and Ballet Theater performances and to order tickets, visit http://www.music.indiana.edu/opera.