An Outer Banks Night at the Opera

Review of La Traviata, performed Feb. 2 at First Flight Highs School.

by Kip Tabb

Opera, with its grand spectacle and soaring vocals, came to the Outer Banks on Satur-day night and it was all that it was supposed to be.

As the first lyrical notes of the overture to La Traviata floated over the audience the mood was set for a remarkable tale of life in in 1853 that resonates even today. The overture is sweet and soulful, then joyous yet with an underlying tension that antici-pates the story that unfolds.

Sarah Cooper’s Violetta sings a duet with Tshombe Selby's Alfredo

Opera is, of course, about the extraordinary capacity of the human voice. Yet it is more than that, for contained within the music is the tale the artists are telling and their ability to convey the story as they perform the music is what creates the magic of the-ater.

And the performance we witnessed Saturday evening on the First Flight High School stage was pure magic.

Sarah Cooper’s Violetta is alluring and sensual, a woman who declares at one point, “Life is just pleasure.” Coopers voice is sublime—powerful, subtle and memorable.

There is about Violetta a tenderness, a side of her that has a kind word for a young man who raises a toast to love and her beauty.

That young man is Alfredo, performed with a vitality and nuance by Tshombe Selby that makes the romance that blossoms between Alfredo and Violetta seem inevitable.

The romance begins to flourish, framed by the magnificent intertwining of the voices of Selby and Cooper.

It is not, however, the music along that creates the magic of the evening for entwined within Verdi’s the music is a cautionary tale of love, family, betrayal and tragedy.

Although performed in Italian, the language becomes irrelevant as the story unfolds.

For all her vivacity, Violetta is not a well woman. There is in the opening scene a mo-ment, almost overlooked in all the revelry happening about her, where Violetta seems suddenly weak and she sits and takes a moment to search her purse, perhaps for med-icine. That singular moment is a precursor for what will happen.

By the end of the evening it is apparent that Violetta sees something in Alfredo that is special and she takes him for her lover. They move to the country where all is bliss un-til Alfredo’s father Giorgio, Wayne Lane, arrives unexpectedly and in a private meet-ing with Violetta convinces her that she must break off the relationship.

And then, one of the defining moments in the Saturday evening performance…

Alfredo’s father Giorgio, Wayne Lane, sings a duet with Tshombe Selby's Alfredo

Violetta ends the relationship and Alfredo learns of his father’s hand in the act. As his father tries to justify his action, Alfredo sits with his back to his father, staring off in stony silence.

Another lover quickly takes Alfredo’s place and Alfredo, when he sees Violetta at par-ty takes his winnings from the card table and throws them at her, declaring that now he has repaid her for her time.

Cooper and Selby perform the scene to perfection—the pain and humiliation Alfredo feels bubbles over as he throws the money at her. Violetta, is equally as humiliated, yet she conveys a sense of understanding, that she knows she has hurt him deeply. It is soon after this that a reconciliation between the lovers begins.

There is not time though for their love to truly flower again. Violetta’s consumption is now in its final stages. Destitute, and realizing that other than Annina her nurse—in a role local voice teacher Deb Kasten seemed to own—there is no one left in her life.

Word comes to Giorgio and he pleads with his son to go to her, acknowledging that he was wrong. Alfredo runs to her sickbed, arriving in time to proclaim his love for her and hold Violetta as she dies in his arms.

The production of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata was brought to the Outer Banks by Elizabeth R & Company with additional funding from the Bryan Cultural Series and the Meekins Trust.

The performance had a distinctly Outer Banks feel to it, although that did not take away from the performance at all. Some of that credit must go to Deb Kasten who, in addition to performing the role of Nurse Annina, was the Chorus Master for the per-formance.

Big kudos also has to be handed out to the orchestra under the direction of Violetta Zabbi. The beauty of the voices were enhanced by the orchestral accompaniment.

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