A passionate 'La Traviata'

Verdi's classic 1853 opera "La Traviata" has an oddly contemporary resonance in that at bottom, it's the story of a woman who doesn't fit into a man's world. With its costuming and scenic choices, the Rogue Opera's new production of one of the most popular of all operas underscores and amplifies that vibe.

The title character is not your father's Violetta, a creature of a bygone Europe of a century-and-a-half ago. This time out we're in the Roaring '20s, maybe the Fred-and-Ginger-elegant '30s, and Violetta and the others have a sophisticated flapper thing going.

The set is heavy on tony settees and salon furnishings, lots of upholstered chairs in front of an elegant backdrop that lends itself to quick changes with the changing scenes. As the orchestra under the baton of Samuel McCoy finishes the overture, and the lyrics are sung in the original Italian, the lyrics and English subtitles are streamed on a reader above the stage. This is helpful for line-by-line details and little nuances even if you know the libretto, but could be distracting if you allowed it to.

Soprano Amy Feather is dazzling in the challenging role of Violetta, the "lost woman" of the title. Rogue Opera has double-cast the role for two singers (a not uncommon strategy), Feather, of Washington state, and Jacquelynne Fontaine, of California. Feather has performed recently with the Boston Lyric Opera and the University of Illinois Orchestra, Fontaine with the Tuscia Opera Festival in Italy, the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and the 2011 Burbank Philharmonic Young Artists' Competition, where she won first place.

Giuseppe Verdi based "La Traviata," which means "the fallen woman," on the play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas the younger. It's set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.

The details and the glitz are ravishing as the production fetes the high life of Paris. We almost feel the sensual sway of the sequined dresses and evening clothes, sink into the slinky sofas, smell the heady aroma of expensive perfume.

A quick refresher: Violetta, a courtesan to a wealthy baron in 1840s Paris, gives up the high life and finds true love with young nobleman Alfredo Germont, who has loved her from afar. The couple are happy together in the country, but Alfredo's father demands an end to the romance in the interest of the family reputation, and Violetta reluctantly agrees. The rejected Alfredo humiliates her shamefully, not knowing his father is behind the split. Alfredo's father eventually confesses to Violetta, but as Alfredo rushes to her side it is too late.

Tenor James Callon, a passionate Alfredo, has sung recently with the Los Angeles and Tulsa operas. Baritone Kreshnik Zhabajaku, who plays Girogio, Alfredo's father, with conviction and authority, is a native of Albania who has performed at the Albanian National Opera House.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of "La Traviata" is that it demands the soprano sing coloratura in the first act, play the tortured soul in the more conflicted and complicated second act, and mezzo in the third as the story moves inexorably to its dark ending. Feather takes Violetta through her changes with a supple performance of great emotional depth and clarity.

Perhaps the high point is the wrenching scene in which Alfredo publicly rejects her in the most humiliating way imaginable, flinging money at her as if in "payment" for their time together, a great insult.

By the time deadline summons a reviewer in the middle of the final act, Violetta, knowing the Baron has been wounded, with Alfredo on his way to her side, reflects on her life and asks for forgiveness. But she has to face the bitter knowledge that the happy days are gone. It's not supposed to end like this. She's given up the high life for true love and been rewarded with unhappiness and impending doom. It is a moving performance, the colors and depths brilliantly conveyed.

This season marks the 35th year of Rogue Opera, which was founded by Ray Tumbleson with a mission of presenting quality opera to regional audiences and training young performers.

"La Traviata" will be presented again Sunday, May 1, at 3 p.m., at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in Medford. Tickets are available today by calling 541-608-6400, and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. at the Craterian box office.

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