While chatting in the lobby with a former Indy intern and current opera student during intermission, she advised me that, even though I was having trouble getting into the TheatreWorks/Opera Theatre of the Rockies co-production of The Lady of Camellias, it would surely pick up soon.
"Just wait until she dies," she said.
The production is a combination of two famous works -- Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata, and Alexandre Dumas' La Dame aux Camellias, the book upon which the opera was based. The Lady of the Camellias, inspired by Dumas' tragic romance with the famous French courtesan Marie Duplessis, tells the story of Violetta Valery, a young Parisian beauty who is slowly dying of tuberculosis. The extravagant social butterfly has never allowed herself to love anyone -- until she meets the dashing and devoted Alfredo Germont. She gives up money, possessions and the Parisian nightlife to make a life with him -- until Giorgio, Alfredo's father, begs her to leave his son in order to save the family name.
Described as a "theatrical experiment" by TheatreWorks' Producing Director Drew Martorella, this theater/opera blend is being performed in UCCS' Dwire Theater, a small performance space that sports a low ceiling and seating along all four walls.
Fully aware of the intimate nature of the space, UCCS asks that patrons in the front row dress in finery and assume the positions of guests in Violetta's apartment. Unfortunately, the seating of beautiful people in one's line of vision doesn't combat the distraction of a riser full of audience members just behind them.
The audience's proximity to the stage action presents an even greater problem. During the first act, the verbal interactions of the cast prove too melodramatic for such a small space. The over-the-top TV smiles, laughter and gasps of shock! and horror! -- customary in opera -- draw attention away from the story, making it hard to connect with the lonely Violetta and lovesick Alfredo.
In fact, the shining star of the first act is Bob Pinney, the delightful non-singing actor otherwise known for his yearly turn as Ebenezer Scrooge. As the wealthy, lascivious Saint-Gaudens, Pinney is perfectly matched with Shannon French as Olympe, a brash beauty who knows just what a dirty old man like Saint-Gaudens wants. Comedic, risqu lines sparkle and pop between the pair, stealing the limelight with cocked hips and knowing smiles.
Tenor Daniel Fosha* almost overcomes the staging hurdles with wonderful acting and strong vocal performances, but every time Fosha's momentum begins to propel Camellias, it's halted by the over-the-top performance of Lisa Walecki* as Violetta. Were the audience 10 or 15 feet further back, her dramatic facial expressions would convey Violetta perfectly, but sitting so closely one sees the lack of true emotion in Walecki's face. Despite the flatness of her spoken lines, Walecki has a remarkable voice that trembles your bones; she delivers a stunningly beautiful operatic performance.
The Lady of Camellias is a mixed bag -- beautiful and impressive singing, constrained by stunted acting and an amateurish feel. Like she said, "just wait until she dies." The tense, mournful and poignant scene leaves the audience breathless, until the lights come up and Violetta is suddenly reborn ... to help carry the props off the set.
Camellia leaves you no mystery to its beauty, no bittersweet aftertaste to carry you through the night.
-- Kristen Sherwood
*Due to the demands of this production on the actors' voices, the leads were doublecast. Daniel Fosha alternates with Francisco Rodriguez in the role of Alfredo; Lisa Walecki alternates with Judeth Shay Burns in the role of Violetta.