With only the sparest set and subtle, effective lighting that fits and frames the scenes like a ball gown, Opera Memphis' lean, mean La Traviata lets Verdi's familiar, unfailingly hooky score do all the heavy lifting.
La Traviata's the story of Violetta is an upscale courtesan, and the life of any party. But the very things that make her so popular in certain segments of society also insure she can never really be a part of it. By the time young Alfredo — who's been watching her for a year — confesses love and sweeps her away, she's coughing up blood and dying of tuberculosis. Any subsequent happiness is undercut by economic hardship and cut short when Alfredo's father convinces the dying woman that her relationship with his son will prevent his daughter from ever attaining a proper husband.
So, leading Alfredo to believe that she'd followed her free spirit into another's arms, Violetta sacrifices her chance for love — or, at least, the comforts of companionship. Her nobility's rewarded with humiliation.
The simplicity of stage director Benjamin Wayne Smith's approach to the material highlights and heightens the deft plotting of Verdi's Our Lady of the Camellias redux. What's more, since scripts and scores move dynamically through history, even Smith's relatively conservative approach to this tragic "hooker with a heart of gold" melodrama, is now so much more evidently a story about sickness, the male gaze, unhealthy obsession, and a corrosive patriarchy.
Don't misunderstand, Opera Memphis can stage some pretty wild interpretations of the classics, but this production isn't quirky at all. It's frank, and humane, and the contemporary themes are right there in the meat and potatoes of the often revived masterpiece.
Even from the back row of GPAC Laquita Mitchell's warm, fluid soprano voice has an intimate quality, modestly cloaking some serious vocal pyrotechnics. She's paired with Joseph Dennis, whose sweet voiced tenor is edged with insecurity and obsession. Conductor Douglas Kinney Frost leads players from the Memphis Symphony Orchestra through a crisply-paced supporting performance that, like Mitchell's vocal work, becomes more impressive after the last notes fade, and the full effect is on you.