La Traviata


TULSA OPERA (1990) | NEW YORK CITY OPERA (1991-92)

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LA TRAVIATA by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Lawrence Gilgore, Guido Aimone-Marsan
Cast: F. Ginsberg/S. Woods, J. D. deHaan/M. Thompson, R. Galbraith/G. LaPerrière
Production: J. Conklin (scenery), B. Shamash/C. Zuber (clothes), M. Lincoln/P. Kaczorowski (lighting)

“Can La Traviata be updated? Who believes in shame at a time when Marla Maples’ parents cheer on their daughter’s trysts with a married man? Today’s Violetta’s would laugh Papa Germont, and his pleas for the family honor, right off their estates. And yet an audience does respond more vigorously to a vision that they recognize as contemporary: parties full of coke, leather jackets and whips, sinister men in full-length leather trench coats, women writhing in mini-skirts, of the ghastly quiet of a hospital ward. So director Nicholas Muni’s well-conceived staging of Verdi’s most poignant opera does provide coups de theatre that startle the viewer and expand understanding.
Peter Goodman, USA Today (August, 1991)

(paired with a critique of Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci at New York City Opera)
“A few nights later, I caught up with Nicholas Muni’s Traviata, a Tulsa Opera production that had been premiered a few weeks ago. It too exchanged the usual setting (19th century Paris) for Manhattan. Obviously this is a production I was destined to hate, but life is full of surprises and I can only marvel at the wit, style and genuine feeling Mr. Muni extracted from a concept that could so easily, in clumsy hands, have turned into an excruciating evening. Verdi’s tale of the big-hearted courtesan came through with no damage to the emotional core. That it did so has much to do with the evocative designs of his colleagues, John Conklin (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes) and, especially, Peter Kazerowski, whose atmospheric lighting helped create an alienated, artificial-looking world that was not very far away in mood from the best period productions. In particular, the opening act came off effectively with its evocations of the French Second Empire casually displayed in the coolly modern room like trophies from old productions. Mr. Muni, adding imaginatively to Verdi’s stage directions, left the Baron standing silently on the terrace surveying the immensity of the city at night while Violetta sings her great soul-searching scene. It reminded us what Traviata means—the lost one—and also of the men who still hold the keys to wealth and power.”
Manuela Holterhoff, The Wall Street Journal (August, 1991)

“A glance at the cast list of the City Opera’s new La Traviata followed by the ominous information that “this production is set in the present” will have hands wringing even before the curtain rises. Violetta Valery as a professional escort? Annina as her secretary and Gaston as her manager? Substance abusers enjoying light S&M entertainments at Flora’s party? Violetta expiring, probably from AIDS, in a hospital ward? Has opera at Lincoln Center, one of the last bastions of conservativism, suddenly fallen into the mischievous clutches of Peter Sellars or some other mad futurist? Not quite, but this Traviata, directed by Nicholas Muni, is bound to strike most New York opera-goers as radical, although its raw spirit might have pleased Verdi. His intention, after all, was to write a startling contemporary drama, which is why the City Opera’s approach is entirely defensible. Beyond that, I would say that no Traviata seen hereabouts has come closer to the essential content of the piece since Frank Corsaro’s production in the sixties, a conventional setting but equally serious in its attempt to re-study, re-think and re-animate an old favorite. Those who know and love the work will surely come away with a fresh appreciation of why Verdi continues to be such a vital and modern presence.”
Peter G. Davis, NEW YORK Magazine (August, 1991)

“There is wonderful news to be told: last month, an updated, shockingly relevant and theatrically exhilarating production of La Traviata was staged in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Thanks to director Nicholas Muni and design John Conklin, there is now something very exciting about Verdi’s masterpiece that is genuinely worth writing about. Muni’s interpretation will force singers to re-examine this great work every time it touches their lives. The fact that this La Traviata was so intelligently conceived and economically designed is a great tribute to the entrepreneurial efforts and creative talents of these men, who succeeded in sensitively articulating to the audience the delicate relationships involved and presenting the controversial social issues which Verdi tackled when he composed his brave and daring opera. Tulsa Opera deserves a great deal of respect for delivering far more operatic truth in this remarkably cost-effective production than one is likely to find at the MET, which squanders millions on Franco Zeffirelli’s masturbatory spectacles.”
George Heymont, San Francisco Back Bay Examiner (March, 1990)

“Tulsa may not be Boston, New York or San Francisco, but in Tulsa Opera’s forty-second season, audiences were treated to productions that moved some to indignation, at the same time jamming the aisles with new viewers and appreciative aficionados. La Traviata, in a non-traditional treatment, with sets and costumes by John Conklin, attempted to fulfill Verdi’s intention of placing a contemporary mirror onstage. The opening scene was particularly effective, the spare columns and single French Provincial sofa retaining echoes of the past, while the party-goers flaunted their bodies and contemporary gowns. Muni’s consistent direction brought a well-thought-out psychological perspective as well as stage savvy to La Traviata and coaxed unusual interpretations from his cast; the production bristled with daring and vitality, allowing little complacency.”
Francine Ringold, Opera News (December, 1990)

“Tulsa Opera artistic director Nicholas Muni has created a daring staging of La Traviata that follows the directive of the composer to present the opera in the time of the audience viewing it. He has stripped away the unreal, romantic veneer traditional productions have painted over Violetta. Instead of a Barbara Cortland confection, Muni gives relevance and depth. By taking Verdi’s opera to the present, he has made us face the real Traviata. Muni and Tulsa Opera have created a moving, unforgettable evening of musical theater.”
Ellis Widner, The Tulsa Tribune (March, 1990)

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