Manitoba Opera's La Traviata offers rare chance to see rising opera star

La Traviata endures not just because of its captivating music, but because of a story with musical and psychological depth, says reviewer Lara Rae, and the chance to see rising star Angel Blue in the lead role in Manitoba Opera's production should not be missed.

Don't miss your chance to see soprano Angel Blue in latest Manitoba Opera production, says Lara Rae

The cast of Manitoba Opera's production of La Traviata. Though the opera is woefully overdone, says reviewer Lara Rae, it is beautiful and anchored by a rising star in Angel Blue. (C. Cormeau/Manitoba Opera)

If you asked a computer program to plug in a classic grand-opera plot, it could do no better than the story of La Traviata's Violetta Valery, both fragile and powerful, a buoy bouncing in the ever-changing currents of "good" society and destined, like her counterpart Mimi in La Bohème (also set in France), to an early end.

But no plot that hoary endures without captivating music. That alone can ensure some modest posterity.

Yet La Traviata, currently onstage in Winnipeg in a Manitoba Opera production, endures longer than Canada has been a nation because in the hands of Giuseppe Verdi, perhaps the finest of all the opera composers, the story is given musical and psychological depth.

Here is a rare opportunity for swells such as us, far from the streets of London, New York and Europe, to witness live a soprano who may be the next Netrebko.- Lara Rae

Not only is there the relationship between the lovers, Alfredo and Violetta — precarious in so many ways due both to poor physical and financial health — but also the complex bond between Alfredo and his father Giorgio, one of several complex father-son pairings in the Verdi canon.

Baritone James Westman, despite being a bit young for the role, is very strong as Alfredo's father and sang a lovely version of Di Provenza il mar, il suol, one of Verdi's more beautiful baritone arias.

As for Alfredo, this production was altered unfortunately by illness. Tenor Adam Luther was not in full voice Tuesday night, but did a highly professional job of maintaining his vocal power and his physical energy.  Hopefully, with two days to recover, the final performance on Friday will see him back to his level best.

Left to right: James Westman as Germont, Shannon Unger as Annina, Adam Luther as Alfredo and Angel Blue as Violetta in La Traviata. Blue is a rising star who 'may be the next [Anna] Netrebko,' says Lara Rae. (C. Cormeau/Manitoba Opera)

Manitoba Opera's co-production is set in Paris of the 1920s. Although the casting of Angel Blue, an African-American woman, in the role of Violetta is colour blind, there is a nice historical resonance at play.

Paris of the 1920s was bursting with jazz and African-American culture. Some of Blue's gorgeous costumes and wigs evoke performers like Josephine Baker and give the show an extra level of dynamism.

A mention must be given to conductor Tyrone Paterson, who brings a fresh dimension to the score with a tender and subtle handling of this beautiful, but woefully overdone, work.

But this is opera, so the final moment must be handed over to soprano Blue. Already a rising star, she is set to appear as Mimi in La Bohème at the Met and as Violetta in La Traviata at London's Royal Opera House.

Here is a rare opportunity for swells such as us, far from the streets of London, New York and Europe, to witness live a soprano who may be the next Netrebko.

Don't miss your chance!

Manitoba Opera's production of La Traviata has a final performance at Winnipeg's Centennial Concert Hall Friday, April 20 at 7:30 p.m.


Lara Rae


Lara Rae is a stand-up comic, comedy writer and the former artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival.