La Traviata was last seen in the Springs in 1988, when Martile Rowland performed the part of Violetta. Now, 24 years later, she passes the torch — and her costumes — to her student, Annamarie Zmolek.
"It's thrilling, to sit back in rehearsal and watch Annamarie have the experience of doing this role in its entirety for the first time in her career," says Rowland, a noted national singer and performer who is the artistic director of Opera Theatre of the Rockies and producer of the show. "I think I'm more happy about that than the performance in '88 or all the performances since then for myself, because I see her just unfolding into this amazing Violetta."
La Traviata, simply stated, is the love story of a Parisian courtesan. "It's one of the most frequently done operas in the world because the story still remains true," says Rowland. "I think it's because the characters in the opera are based on real people who really did live."
La Traviata is based on the play Camille by Alexandre Dumas, who used his own experiences as inspiration for one of the lead characters, Alfredo. The play was so popular that it was put to music by Giuseppe Verdi. Before becoming an operatic classic, though, its opening performance in 1853 flopped. Verdi wondered if it was the show or the lead actress.
So, much of this performance rests on Zmolek, the 29-year-old singer who's getting her break after work in smaller roles and as an understudy with OTR. Zmolek says she's always wanted to play Violetta, describing the character as someone who doesn't really believe in love at first, but changes and makes sacrifices over the course of the opera.
Rowland says Violetta's voice also changes as the opera goes on. The first act requires a lighter, faster, "coloratura" voice, while the second act calls for more richness. By the time you reach the third act, it's time for a full "Italian lyric."
"It's not easy to cast," Rowland says, "so we're lucky to have [Annamarie]."
According to Rowland, this tragic opera was a success at the 1988 Colorado Opera Festival, and people have waited long enough to see it again. It's one of two shows that OTR is presenting in 2012; when it stages A Little Night Music in early June, that'll double its usual annual output.
"We have so far — knock on wood — been successful," she says, "and we just continue to try to bring first-class [opera] to southern Colorado."
And that means knowing what works. According to Rowland, the same costumes that were used nearly a quarter-century ago, which were designed by Gypsy Ames of Colorado College, are being used again in 2012.
"They look just as beautiful as they did in 1988," says Rowland. "They've just been waiting to have people to walk into them."