Opera San Jose to stage romantic tragedy ‘La traviata’ (plus, interview with Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste, the “Haitian Diva”)

Resident sopranos Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste and Jasmina Halimic alternate in the role of the famed courtesan, Violetta.

Jouvanca Jean Baptiste as Violetta in La traviata.
Jouvanca Jean Baptiste as Violetta in La traviata.

Opera San José announced it will continue its 28th season with the romantic tragedy La traviata. An unequivocal masterpiece based on the short life of the most famous of all Parisian courtesans, this is Verdi’s most popular opera.

Opera San José founding music director, David Rohrbaugh conducts with stage direction by José Maria Condemi, whose international credits include most of the major companies in the U.S. and dozens of titles from Orfeo to Tristan. La traviata is sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Adapted from the 1852 stage play La Dame aux camélias, by Alexandre Dumas fils, with an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La traviata is the story of a famed courtesan, Violetta Valéry. Opera San José’s production opens in the Paris of 1889, and the celebrated beauty is hosting a lavish party where she meets a young admirer, Alfredo Germont. For the past year, he has loved her without yet having met her. On this night, when they do meet, she is so taken with his sincerity that despite the impossibility of the situation, she abandons caution and her life of luxury, retreating to the country to be with him. But when met with the sharp disapproval of Alfredo’s father, Violetta ends the affair and, broken hearted, returns to Paris. A jealous Alfredo humiliates her publicly, but when he learns of her sacrifice he returns to beg her forgiveness, only to discover that he has waited too long.

Verdi’s timeless tragedy is one of the best-loved and most-performed operas of all time. His melodies, rich in passion and drama, made him the acknowledged Italian master of his time and this endearing work has touched the hearts of both the opera novice and long-time opera lover for generations. The story of this glamorous and fragile courtesan has been popularized in the classic film Camille, starring Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor, and inspired the Baz Luhrman blockbuster movie-musical, Moulin Rouge!, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.

David Rohrbaugh, Opera San José’s founding Music Director and Principal Conductor, will conduct. Dr. Rohrbaugh has conducted more than 60 productions and 600 performances, including company premieres of La rondine, Der fliegende Holländer, Falstaff, Un ballo in maschera, and Werther. He is a professor emeritus of voice and opera from San José State University, where he taught for 30 years and co-directed the Opera Workshop with Opera San José General Director, Irene Dalis. The February 19 and 21 performances will be conducted by Joseph Marcheso. Previous Opera San José productions for Marcheso include La bohème, Manon, La Cenerentola, The Elixir of Love and Lucia di Lammermoor. He has conducted more than 30 operas with Amato Opera in his native NYC where he was appointed Music Director, and served as conductor and coach at both the Shaker Festival/Albany Symphony and at the Dartington Festival in Dartington, England.

José Maria Condemi, who recently staged Bizet’s Carmen for San Francisco Opera, returns to Opera San José as stage director for La traviata. Condemi earned rave reviews for his stage direction of last season’s The Barber of Seville and the company premiere of Puccini’s La rondine in the 2009-10 season.

La traviata features current members of Opera San José’s resident company in principal roles as well as returning and first-time guest artists.

Resident sopranos Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste and Jasmina Halimic alternate in the role of the famed courtesan, Violetta. Jean-Baptiste and Halimic previously shared the role of Nedda in Opera San José’s recent production of Pagliacci and both earned rave reviews in the title role of David Carlson’s Anna Karenina in the 2010-11 season.

San Francisco Bay Area Arts and CultureStark Insider TV – The Life of an Opera Dive (featuring star soprano Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste)

Go behind the scenes in this rare look at life behind the curtain. Loni Kao Stark witnesses a day in the life of the “Haitian Diva” Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste and follows the Opera San Jose resident from her home all the way through to makeup and wardrobe.

Resident tenors Alexander Boyer and Michael Dailey share the role of Alfredo, Violetta’s young lover. Earlier this season, Boyer played the title role in Opera San José’s company premiere of Mozart’s Idomeneo and Canio in Pagliacci. Dailey recently appeared as Beppe in Pagliacci and thrilled audiences last season in The Barber of Seville.

Resident baritone Evan Brummel plays the role of Giorgio Germant, Alfredo’s father. He shares the role with former resident artist Torlef Borsting.

Rounding out the cast are mezzo-sopranos Wendy Buzby and Cathleen Candia as Violetta’s friend, Flora; resident bass-baritone Isaiah Musik-Ayala as Baron Douphol; resident bass Silas Elash as Dr. Grenville; and guest artists Rebecca Krouner and Tori Grayum alternating as Violetta’s devoted maid, Annina. Justin Marsh and Mete Tasin make their company debut as Gastone and Bradley Kynard debuts as Marquis D’Obigny.

Opera San José’s production of La traviata includes set designs by Erik Flatmo, costume designs by Elizabeth Poindexter, lighting design by Chris Maravich, and wig and makeup designs by Jeanna Parham. Scenery and costumes for this production of La traviata were co-produced by Opera San José and Opera Santa Barbara.

La traviata

Eight performances are scheduled from February 11 through 26 at the California Theatre, 345 South First Street in downtown San José. Tickets are on sale at the Opera San José Box Office, by phone at (408) 437-4450 or online at www.operasj.org.

[Photo: Chris Ayers]

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