Choosing Silicon Valley’s ‘Opera Idol': The Sixth Annual Irene Dalis Vocal Competition

Every spring, Silicon Valley opera and classical music fans look forward to the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition — an event that showcases ten of the very finest voices in America. The sixth annual vocal competition is coming up (next Saturday, May 19th!), and we hope that you’re planning to join us for this special event.

The ten finalists will each prepare five arias of their choice, which they feel best demonstrate their talents and abilities. When they take the stage on Saturday afternoon, each singer will select one aria and the judges will request another from their list. At the end of the afternoon, the top three voices will be awarded $15,000 for first place; $10,000 for second; and $5,000 for third. In addition, every audience member will receive a ballot with their program, to vote for their favorite singer; the Audience Choice winner receives a check for $5,000!

A distinguished panel of judges is invited to select the top three winners of the competition. This year’s panel includes Henry Akina, General Director and Artistic Director of Hawaii Opera Theatre; Ward Holmquist, Artistic Director of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City; and Brad Trexell, Director of Artistic Operations of Opera Colorado.

Past winners of the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition have gone on to highly successful careers in opera. To count down the final days before this year’s competition, we’ll be running a week-long series featuring the winners of the first five vocal competitions starting on Monday May 14th. See you at IDVC 2012!

The winners of the 2011 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis and Alexandra LoBianco; photo by Bob Shomler, 2011

OSJ Fans, we begin our countdown of past winners of the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition with the year 2011. Last year’s first place and Audience Choice winner, Alexandra LoBianco (soprano), also took first place at the 2011 Liederkranz Vocal Competition in New York City. Ms. LoBianco recently sang the role of Cio-Cio San in Baltimore Concert Opera’s performance of Madama Butterfly, and Kitty Hart for Tulsa Opera’s production of Dead Man Walking. In the coming season, she will be making her debut with Madison Opera in October, singing the role of Amelia in Verdi’s A Masked Ball, and embarking on a major European tour in December.

Last year’s 2nd and 3rd place winners were gentlemen who are near and dear to Opera San José. We were pleased to welcome Evan Brummel (baritone) to the resident artist ensemble in the 2011-12 season (he thrilled audiences with his performances in Pagliacci, La traviata and Faust), and delighted in having former resident Christopher Bengochea (tenor) back on stage at the California for our company premiere of Mozart’s Idomeneo. Mr. Brummel will be returning as a resident in the 2012-13 season, and we’re looking forward to his performance in The Pearl Fishers, opening in September.

OSJ fans also delighted in seeing resident soprano Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste win the 2011 Wagnerian award after a blockbuster first season that included “fearless” performances in Anna Karenina, Tosca and La bohème. Ms. Jean-Baptiste continued to win rave reviews in the 2011-2012 season, with roles in Pagliacci, La traviata and Faust.

Join us tomorrow, for a catch-up with the winners of the 2010 competition!

The winners of the 2010 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis and Danielle Talamantes; photo by Bob Shomler, 2010

Following her 1st place and Audience Choice wins in the 2010 competition, Danielle Talamantes (soprano) was signed to a full cover contract with the Metropolitan Opera for the 2010-2011 season. Ms. Talamantes is a soprano in residence for this summer’s Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, and next season she will be covering the role of the Flower Maiden in the Met’s 2013 production of Wagner’s Parsifal. She will also be appearing with the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale in Maryland this winter, as a soloist for Handel’s Messiah and Poulenc’s Gloria.

Jonathan Beyer (baritone), 2nd place winner in 2010, has gone on to perform with Opera Hong Kong, Oper Frankfurt, Knoxville Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, the Chicago Symphony, and recently sang the role of Wagner for the 2011 Metropolitan Opera production of Faust. In the month prior to the vocal competition, Mr. Beyer sang the role of Gardiner in the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick¬ with The Dallas Opera. In 2012, audiences will be able to see Mr. Beyer on stages from Boston, Texas and Virginia to Italy, France and Germany.

Jerett Gieseler (baritone), 3rd place winner in 2010, recently made debut performances as Zurga in Hawaii Opera Theater’s production of The Pearl Fishers, and Escamillo in with Opera Roanoke’s Carmen. Last year, in addition to performances of La bohème with Stockton Opera, Mr. Gieseler sang for the Neue Sinfonieorchester Berlin and made his debut in his homestate of Michigan, singing Figaro for Opera Grand Rapids’ production of The Barber of Seville.

The winners of the 2009 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis and Jordan Shanahan; photo by Bob Shomler, 2009

Jordan Shanahan (baritone), winner of the 2009 vocal competition 1st place and Audience Choice awards, went on to the Metropolitan Opera stage where he has sung in five productions, including the roles of Kallenbach in Satyagraha by Philip Glass, and Robert Oppenheimer in Dr. Atomic by John Adams. In addition to numerous performances and competition wins, he was profiled by industry magazine Opera News in 2010, and can be heard on two recordings of the music of Thomas Pasatieri: the Grammy nominated Divas of a Certain Ageand Songbook.

Of course, opera fans know that Mr. Shanahan’s wife, Audrey Luna (soprano), is an opera star in her own right. The 3rd place winner of the 2009 vocal competition, Ms. Luna was profiled in the April 2012 edition of Opera News. In the 2010-11 season, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, and Najade in Ariadne auf Naxos, and will return to their stage next season as Ariel in The Tempest.

Gregory Caroll (tenor) was the 2nd place vocal competition winner in 2009. Last year, in addition to principal roles with Spokane Opera, Opera Cleveland, Opera Lyra Ottawa and the Canadian Opera Company (among others!), he also sang in the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program Schwabacher Summer Concert series, and covered the role of Neptune for Metropolitan Opera’s production of Enchanted Island. This summer, Mr. Carroll’s engagements will include Radamès (Aida) for Den Norske Opera in Oslo, Norway, and covering the roles of Pinkerton (Madame Butterfly) and Cavaradossi (Tosca) for Los Angeles Opera.

The winners of the 2008 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis and Scott Bearden; photo by Bob Shomler, 2008

Opera San José subscribers cheered as Scott Bearden (baritone) took both 1st place and the Audience Choice award in the 2008 vocal competition. A former resident artist (2000-02), Mr. Bearden was also the Audience Choice in the inaugural 2007 competition. Following his departure from Opera San José in 2002, Mr. Bearden went on to sing lead roles with companies throughout the world, from Connecticut and Tennessee to Peru and Tel Aviv. Mr. Bearden’s 2012 engagements include Iago in Knoxville Opera’s production of Otello (April), and a return to Caramoor as Zambri in Ciro in Babilonia (July). Mr. Bearden can be heard as the Vicar in the Vox Classics recording of Britten’s Albert Herring, and he has recently released a solo recording of songs entitled A Piece of Art.

Arthur Espiritu (tenor), 2nd place winner in the 2008 competition, has since performed around the world with the Accademia of Teatro alla Scala, Piccolo Teatro di Milano, Opera Fuoco, Theatre St. Gallen in Switzerland, Théâtre Champs-Élisées in Paris, France, the Learners Chorus in Hong Kong, and the Oulu Sinfonia of Finland. His recent and upcoming projects in the 2010-2012 season include making his role debut as Elvino (La sonnambula) and Oronte (Alcina) with St. Gallen, a company debut with the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv, and reprising roles for Ashlawn Opera, Opera North (NH), Austin Lyric Opera and Washington Concert Opera.

While we are gathered at the California Theatre on May 19th for this year’s competition, 2008 3rd place winner Eugene Chan (tenor) will be singing Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Yakima Symphony Orchestra in Washington. Other 2012 engagements for Mr. Chan include Slook (La cambiale di matrimonio) for the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, and Figaro for Michigan Opera Theatre’s production of The Barber of Seville. He recently made his role debut as Hajny (Rusalka) with Theater Basel (Switzerland) and sang Dandini for Teatro Comunale di Bologna (Italy). He was a finalist in the Francisco Viñas International Competition in Barcelona (2012), the Geneva International Competition (2011) and the Elena Obraztsova International Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia (2011).

Scott Six (tenor) was the recipient of an award from the Wagner Society of Northern California in the 2008 competition. In 2010, he took first place in the Wagner Division of the Liederkranz Vocal Competition in NYC. He has been a part of the Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Emerging Singer Program, under the auspices of the Wagner Society of Washington, D.C. since 2010. Recent appearances include Opera in the Heights in Houston, TX, and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra in Virginia. In January, Mr. Six returned to the west coast to sing Pagliacci in Stockton, CA, before performing his first Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos with Winter Opera St. Louis.

The winners of the 2007 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis Vocal Competition 2007
NaGuanda Nobles, First place winner at the Inaugural Irene Dalis Vocal Competition; photo by Bob Shomler, 2007

Following her first place win at the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition in 2007, NaGuanda Nobles (soprano) went on to also win first place at the Ninth Annual Jensen Foundation Voice Competition in 2008, taking home another $15,000 and a contract with Opera Carolina. In 2008, she was a guest soloist for the Fremont Symphony in an evening of George Gershwin music; that same year, Mrs. Nobles performed as Liu in Turandot for Dayton Opera, and also covered the role of Clara in Porgy & Bess for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Mrs. Nobles appeared as Mimì in La bohème for Sacramento Opera in 2009. She sang the role of Clara in Porgy & Bess for Dayton Opera in 2010 and for Atlanta Opera in 2011. In 2011, she reprised her roles as Liu (Turandot) for Pittsburgh Opera, and Mimì (La bohème) for Dayton Opera. This fall, she will be singing the High Priestess in Dallas Opera’s production of Aïda.

In 2007, 2nd place winner Kristin Rothfuss (mezzo-soprano) made her debut with Sacramento Opera, singing Dorabella in a new production of Così fan tutte directed by John de Lancie, as well as singing Lola for Virginia Opera’s production of Cavalleria rusticana. After singing professionally for a few years, Kristin had a career change, becoming a new mother to a baby girl, which she calls her “best role yet”! Today, she runs a thriving private voice studio with 35 students, mostly high school students, and is passing on her joy, passion and knowledge for singing to the next generation. She proudly reported that some have moved on to major in vocal performance in college and have received large scholarships.

Oksana Sitnitska (mezzo-soprano), 3rd place winner of the inaugural Irene Dalis Vocal Competition, sang Olga in Virginia Opera’s 2008 production of Eugene Onegin, where she shared the stage with former OSJ resident Jason Detweiler as Onegin! In recent years, she has done a number of special performances of traditional Russian and Ukranian music at venues throughout the Bay Area with Sacramento Opera.

Comments on the set designs for Faust

The basic premise of the Renaissance paintings was to create an environment that acknowledges itself as being fake- something conjured by Méphistophélès. The kermesse* drop in Act I is based on a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder called The Wedding Dance. We wanted the characters to seem to pop right out of the paintings, so we used costumes that match very closely to the kermesse; the characters start the scene in that frozen pose, and come to life as the lights pop on.

Evan Brummel as Valentin; Image by Pat Kirk Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The garden drop in Act II is a collage of Bruegel paintings—we wanted something that could give the beauty of the vista of the countryside, yet still feel intimate to satisfy the emotions of the multiple scenes in which we wanted to use it. The scale, as well as surreal ideas such as the door, helps to establish the paintings as a conjured environment, poetically establishing the world.

Alexander Boyer as Faust, and Krassen Karagiozov as Valentin; Image by Pat Kirk Photography

The church drop is based on a panel from a Hans Memling triptych, The Last Judgment. The historical context of the idea of the painting adds to the theatricality of the events: in that scene, Méphistophélès controls the chorus and ties to the manifestation of looming hell in the theatrical lighting booms, as on-lookers lurk in the darkened wings.

Jasmina Halimic as Marguerite; Image by Pat Kirk Photography

By comparison, the equations drop for Faust’s study in Act I is a collage of medieval equations done as chalkboard drawings, and even though it conjures a similarly heightened reality by being oversized, the intention was for it to feel the most real.

Michael Dailey as Faust; Image by Pat Kirk Photography

The drop in the finale (Marguerite and Faust’s redemption) is based on a manuscript illumination, Dante and Beatrice Ascend to the Heaven of the Sun, by Giovanni di Paolo.

Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste as Marguerite and Michael Dailey as Faust (with Jesigga Sigurdardottir as Marguerite’s deceased sister); Image by Pat Kirk Photography

[Editor’s note: if you enjoyed reading about the goals and context of these stage designs, we hope that you will join us next season, for our series of free lunchtime previews at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in downtown San Jose. In addition to a selection of arias performed by OSJ resident artists, we are often able to host a panel of distinguished speakers (such as the stage director, set or costume designers, academics, and more!) to discuss the production and answer questions. To keep informed about the Tuesday previews and similar events, sign up to receive OSJ Enews today!]

*A kermess is a Dutch mass and celebration of the church, accompanied by feasting, dancing and sports.

An Interview With Michael Dailey

Michael Dailey

Michael Dailey and Betany Coffland take a break from their royal duties in the 2009 production of La Cenerentola, surrounded by new friends from the Girl Scouts.


“A teacher once told me that a person doesn’t pick music, music picks the person. And in my case, that’s been true.”

Despite possessing a voice that Opera News has described as “blessed with freshness,” Michael Dailey’s career as an opera singer occasionally surprises even himself. “I am not from a musical family, and extroverted behavior was not encouraged. Children were to be polite and quiet. Opera is quite the opposite — it is all about expressing yourself.” In fact, when Dailey experienced his first symphony performance on an elementary school field trip, he asked his teacher whether the musicians were playing the instruments or playing tapes!

As a teenager, Dailey had to fulfill a fine arts requirement at Tallwood High School in Virginia, and on a whim he chose theater. “In my sophomore year they were doing the musical Pippin. I auditioned with a jazzy/soul interpretation of ‘Happy Birthday,’ and was cast as the lead.” Based on that performance, he was invited to sing with the Madrigals, “a small, prestigious group that sang classical pieces, not Broadway show tunes.” Dailey also competed for a place in the District Choir, and sang in the All-State Chorus his senior year. While still in high school, a friend invited him to see his first opera, a Virginia Opera performance of Rigoletto. He remembers getting dressed up in his Madrigals tuxedo for the occasion, and that by the end of the opera, he had been moved to tears by the drama and music.

When Dailey was a senior, his high school choral director Claudia Griffin encouraged him to sing for David Clayton, the choral director at Virginia Wesleyan College. A successful audition later, Dailey’s life had been given a new direction: “I was the first male in my family to go to college, and it was while I was an undergrad that I first studied with a voice teacher.”

It is often said that only one in 10,000 singers have a successful career in opera. Knowing early on that the odds were stacked against him, Dailey continued singing while pursuing a B.A. in Psychology at Virginia Wesleyan, and an M.S.Ed. in Counseling from Old Dominion University. All the while, he found himself thinking more about performances than his studies. “That is where music found me. I knew it had to be my life!” He finished his degrees and worked as a counselor for two years, while singing with the Virginia Chorale, in church choirs, and in the Virginia Opera chorus.

He was accepted to the resident artist-in-training program at Tri-Cities Opera (Binghamton, NY) with Opera Guild and Adele Bernstein Scholarships in 2006, and began singing opera full-time. In 2007 he toured Western Europe with New York Harlem Productions’ Porgy and Bess. “It’s an excellent company that only tours this one opera. It was my first time in Europe, too.”

Dailey joined the resident artist ensemble at Opera San José in 2008, on a partial fellowship from the W. Gibson Walters Memorial Fund. “The best thing about Opera San José is that it offers singers the opportunity to grow professionally, by doing so many leading roles. Many people don’t realize that it is the second largest opera company in the Bay Area, and that its productions are cast around the residents. Other professionals, usually former residents, are hired when other voices are needed.” In the past four years, Dailey has sung numerous roles for the company, including Alfredo (La traviata), Beppe (Pagliacci), Levin (Anna Karenina), Des Grieux (Manon), Prunier (La rondine), Don Ramiro (La Cenerentola), Don José (Carmen), Ferrando (Così fan tutte), Lensky (Eugene Onegin), Nemorino (The Elixir of Love), and Count Almaviva (The Barber of Seville) which is his current favorite.

Dailey prepares for a role by translating the score, listening to recordings in order to get the concept of the entire piece, and speaking the text in rhythm. For inspiration, Dailey’s favorite tenor is Nicolai Gedda, probably the most widely-recorded tenor in history. “He is a true lyric tenor, like me.” He also greatly admires Natalie Dessay and Joan Sutherland, because their voices are so unique. “They were never pushed to sound like anyone but themselves. Every note Sutherland sings is beautiful. ” Outside of opera, Dailey’s favorite musician is Prince. “’Around the World in a Day” was the first cassette tape I ever received — I would listen to it literally two or three times a day, and sing along.”

This season, Dailey concludes his fourth-year of residency with Opera San José. “Opera singing is a difficult occupation: a singer must have a beautiful voice, of course, but they must also be a good actor, able to draw in the audience, and able to accurately pronounce many languages. All of the resident artists at Opera San José hope to be better singers and performers when they leave, than when they arrived.”

The intersection of Dailey’s vocal talent and academic interests provide him with an array of interesting prospects for the future. “Music can hit me with its feeling and power,” Dailey says. “It has its own language. At one time I considered becoming a music therapist. Did you know some composers wrote pieces for their personal therapy, for instance, after suffering the loss of a loved one?”

In the meantime, Opera San José fans are not the only ones who see Dailey’s opera career taking off. In 2010, Dailey was invited back to Virginia Wesleyan to sing at the college’s 41st commencement ceremony, where he inspired graduates with performances of “Nessun dorma” (Turandot) and “Make Them Hear You” (Ragtime). Last summer, Dailey sang as an apprentice artist with Santa Fe Opera; he will be returning this summer as an understudy for the lead tenor in Maometto II, and sing an additional comprimario (supporting) role.

If you enjoyed Dailey’s recent performance as Alfredo in La traviata, be sure to catch him singing the title role in our upcoming production of Faust, April 21 — May 6, 2012.

Gounod’s Redemption of Faust

Polish opera singer Edouard de Reszke (1853-1917) as Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust

“Well, doctor, what do you want of me? 
Let us see; speak! 
Do I frighten you?”

Méphistophélès needs no introduction, and no one need tell you that should you see him coming, it’s best to run the other way. Faust stood his ground and lived to regret it…at least in some versions of the story.

Johann Georg Faust, a graduate of Heidelberg University, lived in Germany between 1480 and 1540. He was famed for his claim to be Satan’s son-in-law. He was famous for many other things as well, most of which were rather unsavory. It wasn’t long before his exploits at fortune-telling, alchemy, and magic were chronicled by an anonymous author and immediately published as Historia, von D. Johann Faustus in 1587. Within five years, this book was translated into English by another anonymous writer known only as P.F., Gentleman.  In short order, the brilliant playwright Christopher Marlowe added his version, The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, and this seems to be the most widely received of the versions then available. The adaptation that captured the world’s attention, however, was the great theological and philosophical work, Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (pronounced ger-tuh), which has held sway over readers since 1832, when Part Two (the final installment) was completed. This dense and far-ranging argument about the condition of mankind, our relationship with God, and the possibility and conditions of our salvation became almost holy writ in Germany, and has been studied in universities across the world for more than a century. In all these years, it has inspired innumerable other books, plays, films, and operas based on the imagined life of a Medieval necromancer.

The version of Faust that has had the widest audience, however, is not the revered play of Goethe’s pen (though that is still the most performed play in Germany), but a less philosophical and perhaps more entertaining opera based on Goethe’s Part One: Gounod’s Faust. In the 24 years between its first performance at the famed Palais Garnier in 1869 (ten years after the Théâtre Lyrique world premiere) and Gounod’s death in 1893, the opera had become the most performed work in that house. Faust was also the opera chosen to open the Metropolitan Opera in 1883, and has achieved well more than 700 performances there; it has more than a thousand in Paris.

Goethe’s great masterwork, which has held the world’s attention for so long, ends differently from Marlowe’s play, which ends with Faust going to Hell as a trophy for Méphistophélès. Goethe took the opposite direction: a forgiving Gretchen (Marguerite in the opera) prays on Faust’s behalf, and at the moment that he should be consigned to perdition, God forgives him. Except for the ruin of Gretchen, Faust used the power of Hell to do good works on earth, releasing him from his bargain with Méphistophélès; he was redeemed.

Gounod’s opera does not dabble in this controversy over damnation vs. salvation; rather, it does all it can to meet public expectations and be entertaining. He was not trying to make a reputation on philosophy or scandal, but still, Gounod was dealing in a subject that can spark all manner of reactions and responses. The age-old “deal with the devil” story takes on a particular aura, no matter how the author attempts to avoid controversy.

Marguerite's Garden
Marguerite’s garden in Act 3 of the opera Faust by Gounod as presented in the original production at the Théâtre Lyrique on 19 March 1859. Set design by Charles-Antoine Cambon and Joseph Thierry.

In truth, Faust is not a man of ill intention; he might be better described as foolish rather than evil, a hot-blooded teenager eager to have his pent-up desires satisfied rather than a calculating villain out to hurt others. Indeed, he does seduce an attractive and innocent young woman, and then he leaves her when his desire is sated. Once out looking for his next exploit, he does not think to inquire after her condition. He doesn’t think at all until she is brought to mind after all possible damage has been accomplished, other than her complete destruction. There is nothing admirable in that, but nothing malicious, either – just blind stupidity. Stupidity can do enormous damage, but is it evil? When Faust does sense (through divine inspiration) that all is not well, he insists on coming to the rescue and Méphistophélès is powerless to stop him. Once with Gretchen, seeing the disaster he has brought down upon her, he does his best to save her life. He fails, but not for lack of good intentions and real effort. So, is he beyond redemption? That becomes the question in every Faust, even in Gounod’s romantic 19th-century opera. Goethe posited that those of good intention, who strive to do good, are eligible for salvation; Gretchen forgave Faust, so why shouldn’t the creator of the universe forgive him, too? Much like the deathbed confession and true regret that saves the soul of a Roman Catholic, or the transforming moment of conversion when Jesus is recognized as the Christ, which saves the soul of a Baptist, Faust is forgiven in Goethe’s version. Is this divine justice? It may be, but this isn’t why Gounod’s operatic adaptation has been so popular for so very long. This popularity rests in the richly beautiful, sensuous music.

French opera of the mid to late 19th century is particularly blessed with stunning music. Carmen, The Pearl Fishers, Manon, Werther, Thaïs, Roméo et Juliette, and so many others, are among the most pleasing to hear of all operas. Even those that don’t have librettos of the stature of Faust are still richly rewarding purely through the quality of the music. In Gounod’s Faust, the most moving music is, perhaps, the love duet between Faust and Marguerite at the midpoint of the work, but the most rousing is the Soldiers’ Chorus in Act III. That which is most transcendent is the final trio between Marguerite, Faust and Méphistophélès at the very end of the opera, which is undoubtedly among the most affecting ensembles in all opera.

The staging of Faust is being realized by director Brad Dalton, who brought you our most recent productions of Idomeneo, Anna Karenina, Così fan tutte, and Madama Butterfly, all of which were superior productions with surprisingly fresh interpretations that were both visually striking and dramatically powerful. Steven C. Kemp (Anna Karenina and Idomeneo) has aided Dalton in bringing this vision to the stage, and his designs are arresting. David Lee Cuthbert (The Crucible, Lucia di Lammermoor, The Marriage of Figaro, Eugene Onegin) will design the lighting. Costumes will be provided by Malabar, and are based on clothes of the 16th century.

 

 

A new life for La traviata

There are advantages and disadvantages of co-productions. The biggest advantage is cost sharing; when two companies pool financial resources, much more can be accomplished. In the case of the Opera San José/Opera Santa Barbara co-production of Verdi’s La traviata, a level of grandeur was achieved that neither company could have afforded on its own. Co-production disadvantages are usually about artistic vision, and fortunately for this project, José Maria Condemi, who is directing La traviata for Opera San José, is the artistic director of Opera Santa Barbara. If there were arguments over artistic goals, José Maria had all of them with himself!

José Maria wanted to have a bit of a new look for La traviata, and in his research he discovered that the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889 as part of an enormous exposition to demonstrate the great strides made by France since the overthrow of the monarchy, and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Revolution.

Eiffel Tower

Construction of the tower, October 14 1888 – March 31, 1889; La Tour Eiffel, by Roland Barthes

In 1889, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest man-made structure in the world. It was the chief emblem of an age of unfettered optimism and it dominated the Paris skyline. To have this mighty symbol juxtaposed against the slow, inescapable destruction of one young woman, of her hopes, her most sacred longings, and finally her very life, creates a visual illustration of how the merrymakers continue their romp through the salons of Paris while she is left behind to die.

The tower, under construction, is visible through the window of Violetta’s salon in Act I and seen completed through Flora’s salon window in Act III. This also gives an indication of the passage of time and the impression that both of the women live on the butte of Montmartre, overlooking the city below. This area of Paris is still known for its liberal morality and was the home of many of the greatest artists, composers, writers, and thinkers of that time, the very people who would have populated Violetta’s salon.

The sets were designed by Erik Flatmo, who also designed Eugene Onegin, The Magic Flute, and Tosca for Opera San José in past seasons. Erik has given us a stylish, large, 19th-century-inspired residence with classic paneling and dull-mirrored surfaces. It readily adapts to the opera’s four scenes: Violetta’s Paris salon in Act I, the country house she shares with Alfredo in Act II, Flora’s elegant apartments in Act III, and finally in Act IV, Violetta’s Paris bedroom, where her belongings are being readied for auction. Elizabeth Poindexter, whose extensive list of productions for Opera San José most recently added the West Coast premiere of David Carlson’s Anna Karenina, designed the luxurious costumes of the famous courtesan and her elegant entourage.

The Bridesmaid
The Bridesmaid by J. Tissot, 1883;

When I heard that José Maria wanted La traviata set in 1889, I was pleased to think that we would save costs by utilizing costumes from Anna Karenina, which is in the same period by the same designer; I was soon disabused of my foolish delusion. The fashions of 1889 were in a period of transition between the height of the bustle in 1883 and the slimmed down and daring silhouette of the “hourglass” that dominated the 1890s. The 1880s were a time of heavy brocades, lace, ribbon, false and real flowers, and richly draped fabrics. Going against tradition, Violetta will make her first appearance on our stage in yellow lace.

Chris Maravich, San Francisco Opera’s production lighting designer, will design lighting for La traviata. The only other time Chris has designed for Opera San José was for Mozart’s The Magic Flute in 2008, when José Maria was the stage director. After many years working together on the direction staff of the San Francisco Opera, José Maria and Chris have become a great team.

In all, we have an enormously gifted, experienced and resourceful creative team for this co-production of La traviata, and I feel certain that these visual elements combined with the sure hand of Conductor David Rohrbaugh, Assistant Conductor Joseph Marcheso and Chorus Master Andrew Whitfield will bring to San José a very satisfying production of one of the great operas of all time, Verdi’s La traviata.

La traviata is sponsored by the Applied Materials Foundation.