Anne Arundel Community College's Opera AACC caps its two-production season with Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata" for a bravura celebration of the company's 10th anniversary.
Serving as impresario of this production, founder and artistic director Douglas Brandt Byerly also appears on stage as servant Giuseppe to earn triple kudos as performer, manager and guiding force of the now firmly established cultural treasure that is Opera AACC.
Byerly also serves as AACC's performing arts chair, providing training for young musical artists and students of acting and dance. Musical performances range from grand to rock opera, and include choral and orchestral works that can be enjoyed by all at affordable prices.
Topping productions of works by such composers as Smetana, Donizetti, Mozart and Menotti, Opera AACC puts forth its most challenging masterwork with "La Traviata." Verdi's 19th and most frequently performed opera marks a milestone — the composer abandoned historical subjects to create his first opera about contemporary 19th-century life.
James Harp, artistic administrator of Lyric Opera Baltimore, again serves as AACC Opera director, offering his extraodinary insights for the third time.
Music director/conductor of AACC Symphony Orchestra Anna Binneweg brings her opera-conducting experience to AACC musicians, drawing sensitivity and passion from the orchestra, which continues to improve at each hearing.
"La Traviata," the story of consumptive courtesan Violetta, is based on Alexandre Dumas' novel "Lady of the Camellias," which became a play about Marie Duplessis, with whom Dumas had a love affair before she died of tuberculosis at age 23.
Violetta lives for pleasure, her wealthy lovers financing her lifestyle of hosting elegant parties. When she meets Alfredo, who instantly confesses his love for her, Violetta considers adapting a simpler course. She rents a country house where she shares an idyllic life with Alfredo until his father arrives to persuade her to give up his son so the family can retain respectability at the impending wedding of Alfredo's sister. Alone and in declining health, Violetta waits for Alfredo's return. He learns of her self-sacrifice near the end of her life.
This opera demands a soprano who can touch the audience's hearts. Opera AACC found its Violetta in music faculty member Joy Greene, who has brightened many of the company's productions, beginning with its first, "Orpheus in the Underworld," in 2006 and including "The Bartered Bride" and "The Magic Flute."
As Violetta, Greene triumphs vocally and dramatically in a touching performance that conveys her character's passion, fragility, sparkle, desperate hope and pathos. Greene delivers a tour de force "E Strano" ("It's Strange") that follows her taunting skepticism of Alfredo's initial declaration of love in "Un di Felice" ("One Happy Day"). She then echoes Alfredo's aria in an emotional acceptance complete with vocal fireworks before she briefly returns to a defiant "Sempre Libera" ("Always Free").
Greene's Violetta again touches our hearts in the final act as she expresses lost hope that Alfredo will return in "Addio del passato." Greene is also visually convincing, appearing gracefully elegant in each lovely costume.
Tenor Peter Scott Drackley debuts at Opera AACC in the role of Alfredo and displays youthful energy and impetuosity befitting Violetta's love-struck suitor. Drackley's Alfredo displays an impressive lyric tenor voice that is especially haunting as he recaps offstage Alfredo's romantic first aria. Drackley's Alfredo expresses heartfelt regret, summoning credible emotional intensity in his last duet with the dying Violetta.
Also making his AACC Opera debut, baritone Christian Waugh displays a resonant voice. On opening night, however, he lacked nuance as Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont, in his major Act 2 duet with Violetta. Greene's exquisite and tearful pleading contrasted with Waugh's near-shouted "Piangi" ("Cry") demand.
This might have resulted from opening-night nerves and may improve in future performances when Germont confronts Violetta, asking her to give up Alfredo so his sister can be married without the disgrace of her brother's affair with Violetta. Later during the opening performance, Waugh's "Di Provenza" to Alfredo was more persuasive and satisfying.
Praiseworthy supporting players include Andrew Etherington as Gaston, Meghan Ihnen as Annina, Peter Tomaszewski as Baron Douphol and Jason Widney as Doctor Grenvil. Each deserves applause for creating believable characters to add to the production's dramatic impact.
Under Binneweg's direction, the AACC Symphony Orchestra contributes color and drama to this production, first by establishing the mood with a brooding melody in the opening scene and later bringing joyous sparkle to "Brindisi." Adding romance to the Violetta-Alfredo duet until the doleful strings announce the final act that ends in tragedy, the orchestra fully delivers while supporting each singer to maintain excellent balance.
Visually, this production is gorgeous, with magnificent costumes and elegant scenery.
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Tickets can be purchased at the Kauffman Theater at Pascal Center for Performing Arts box office before performances Thursday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 30, at 8 p.m.