Once ridiculed, now treasured


Annapolis Opera conductor and artistic director Ronald J. Gretz and his cast of singers are in the final week of rehearsal of Verdi's La Traviata.

The second fully staged opera of this 30th anniversary season is to be presented March 21 and 23 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

Often described as the world's most popular opera because of its compelling love story and its relatively small cast and orchestra size requirements, La Traviata is also the most contemporary Verdi opera.

Having premiered six years after the death at age 22 of Marie Duplessis, the woman that Alexandre Dumas loved and described in his La Dame Aux Camelias, Verdi's opera was criticized when it opened in Venice in 1853 for being too modern.

Its theme of disease and love was deemed unattractive, and its modern costumes were difficult for Venetian audiences to accept. When the opera opened later in other Italian cities and in England and the United States, however, it was an instant success.

It remains a treasured favorite in opera houses everywhere.

La Traviata is Italian for "the woman having gone astray." It is the story of courtesan Violetta Valery, who trades a Parisian life of luxury for a simple country cottage that she shares with the naive and adoring Alfredo Germont. Violetta pays the rent by selling her possessions.

After three months, their idyllic country life is interrupted by Alfredo's meddling father, Giorgio Germont, who asks Violetta to give up her relationship with Alfredo.

Strangely, Violetta agrees to the demands of Alfredo's father, tearfully giving up her love and returning to Paris and an unhappy fate.

All of this is set to some of Verdi's most glorious music - the favorite drinking song, "Libiamo," Alfredo's serenades about the happy day he first saw Violetta and knew love. This is followed by Violetta's great aria that moves from wondering whether love will bring sorrow or joy to deciding on a life that is always free.

The second act contains more great love music and marvelous baritone arias sung by Alfredo's father to Violetta about the day when her beauty has gone, and later about his home to comfort Alfredo.

The third act begins with a prelude that many musicians consider the greatest symphonic music Verdi wrote. It was played at the Metropolitan Opera the day conductor Arturo Toscanini died.

Annapolis Opera's production of La Traviata will feature Yali-Marie Williams as Violetta. A graduate of the Juilliard School in New York and winner of the 1999 Placido Domingo International Vocal Competition, Williams sang Violetta in her Opera Festival of New Jersey debut and has since sung the role with the Connecticut Grand Opera and Opera de Puerto Rico. This role will mark Williams' debut with Annapolis Opera.

Tenor Eric Fennel will make his debut with Annapolis Opera in the role of Alfredo Germont. A native of Allentown, Pa., Fennell studied voice at Boston University and lives in New York. Fennell sang leading roles with New York City, Seattle, Boston Lyric, Glimmerglass, Chautauqua and Tulsa operas.

Tenor Keith Hudspeth, who made his debut with Annapolis Opera in July at an Opera in the Park concert, will sing the role of Gastone. Baritone Timothy Scott Mix, who won third prize in last month's Annapolis Opera Vocal Competition, will sing the role of Baron Douphol.

Baritone Thom King began his operatic career at the Connecticut Opera, where he sang a number of roles including Scarpia, Germont and Figaro. He has also sung leading roles with the Eugene Opera in Oregon. King makes his Annapolis Opera debut in the role of Giorgio Germont.

Mezzo soprano Madeleine Gray will be heard as Flora, bass Peter Campbell will sing the role of Marquis d'Obigny, and Jed Springfield will be heard as Doctor Grenvil.

Tickets for the Friday evening and Sunday afternoon performances are $48. Information: 410-267-8135.

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