News Column

One role, three divas: Three sopranos portray Violetta in Lyric Opera of the North production

June 11, 2013


June 11--It has been said of "La Traviata" that the opera requires a different voice for the female lead in each of its three acts.

As far as she knows, Lyric Opera of the North's co-artistic director is the first to take it literally.

"What they're really saying is that it takes a rare soprano to sing that role," said Sarah Lawrence.

But the idea of three women sharing the role -- actually using three different voices -- intrigued Lawrence and, eventually, most of the people she told.

"As soon as people think about it a while ..." she said.

LOON's production, which plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday at Superior High School, features Lawrence as Violetta in Act I, Vicki Fingalson as the star soprano in Act II, and Alice Pierce as the tragic hero in the finale.

It's a unique take on an oft-produced opera, and director Dorothy Danner said she liked what the concept offered.

"It opens challenges," said Danner, who is the sister of Blythe Danner and the aunt of Gwyneth Paltrow. "You're always wondering, 'What twist can I give 'Traviata?' "

It helps that Danner just, coincidentally, saw English theater company Kneehigh's production of "The Wild Bride." In it, director Emma Rice cast three women in the lead.

"I was excited by the idea," Danner said.

"La Traviata," by Verdi, is the story of Violetta, a morally flexible socialite who is having an "I'm back" party after a long illness.

She is introduced to Alfredo, a romantic who she is told visited every day when she was sick. He claims to be madly in love with her, but Violetta tells him she's not the settling-down kind. She likes the high society perks her lifestyle provides.

All has changed in Act II, which finds Violetta shacked up with Alfredo and loving being in love. Alfredo's father visits Violetta on the sly and tells her that her background is ruining the family's reputation. He asks her to give up Alfredo forever, and she agrees.

"I've always been enamored with Act II -- the emotional roller coaster," said Fingalson, who is an assistant professor of voice and director of opera workshops at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. "It's the kind of opera I want to do. I'm thrilled to pieces."

In the final act, Violetta is dying of tuberculosis and gets word that Alfredo has been cleared by his father to come and see her. It's a passionate reunion that briefly revives Violetta -- before she, of course, dies.

"It's a great death scene," said Pierce, a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Duluth. "She gets the surge -- a burst of energy. She sees the light. She dies in the throes of ecstasy."

Each of the Violettas seems satisfied with her part of the production and each is complimentary of the other performers. Lawrence jokingly labels this attitude "Minnesota sopranos."

LOON's cast includes John Cudia as Alfredo in his operatic debut. Cudia, who had the title role in "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway, will appear as Curly in Lyric Opera Chicago's production of "Oklahoma!"

Andrew Oakden has become a LOON regular after singing the title role in "The Mikado" and Turiddu in "Cavalleria Rusticana."

Dirk Meyer, the new music director for the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, is conducting.


(c)2013 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)

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