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"La Traviata" continues through January 24 at the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center

Dwight Casimere | 12/21/2014, 5:24 p.m.
NEW YORK--Few operas have been so emblematic of the genre and have inspired such loyalty as Guiseppe Verdi's La Traviata. ...

NEW YORK--Few operas have been so emblematic of the genre and have inspired such loyalty as Guiseppe Verdi's La Traviata. Since its premiere in Venice, that most decadent of cities (next to New Orleans, which in many ways, emulates it with its annual Mardi Gras celebrations, originating in Venice in the time of the Medicis), has been performed countless times around the globe and is the most popular entries, next to La Boheme, on the annual calendars of most opera companies. La Traviata was first performed at the Met in 1883, within a month of the company's opening, and has appeared in all but 15 performances after a ten year hiatus.

La Traviata is based on the novel "La Dame aux Camelias" (18523) written by the great Black French writer Alexandre Dumas. The opera was originally entitled "Violetta" after the main character, and was premiered at La Fenice opera house in Venice to mixed reviews. The current title "La Traviata" translates loosely to be "a fallen woman," and, as such, was censored by the local authorities who demanded that the opera change its original production from a contemporary setting to sometime in the distant past (c. 1700). It was not until the 1880s that the current "realistic" production that we now see, was staged.

Today, La Traviata is the most performed opera in the world, placing number one on the Operabase list as of the 2012/13 season.

In the opera, Violetta, a beautiful and voluptuous Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka, is a wealthy "kept" woman, a courtesan, who is a highly paid companion to the wealthy men of her time. She is introduced sat a pasrty to a young nobleman, Alfredo Germont. sung brilliantly by native Philacdelphia tenor Stephen Costello. At first meeting, she sings to him of her belief in free love, but gives him a camellia and tells him to return when the flower has wilted, which means he will see her the following day. REalizing her gesture will mean an end to her wanton life, she sings of her conflicting emotions, in the first of several familia arias that are sung with both technical and emotional facility by Rebeka. Her silvery high notes, which are marked with a burnished brilliance and restraint that builds to an eruptive crescendo, are a marvel to behold. Her aria in the Third Act, when she realizes that she is dying, is one of the most spine-chilling moments of entire Met season.

Marina Rebeka is not only an exceptional singer, she is a consumate performer. Her emotive "dancer of death" in which she both celebrates her life, and begins to spin wildly, like a whirling dervish is reminiscent of the death dances practiced by inigenous peoples in Australia and New Zealand.

The spare, modernistic production by Willy Decker, pares the vishual elements to the minimum, which puts the focus squarely on the central story line of impending death. A huge clock with an ominous, figure with white hair and dark suit, silently watching the proceedings from the sidelines, is an uncomfortable reminder of her fate. The clock advances throughout the opera and finally reaches center stage at its conclusion, with the ominous figure become a more active part of the a proceedings.