March 22, 2023

Minnesota Opera review by Hoo Sook Hwang

ST. PAUL, Minn. (May 8, 2019) — I had the unique opportunity to attend “La Traviata,” my third opera on May 4, at The Ordway Center for Performing Arts.

The collective cast stunned the audience with a grand entrance of choral melodies. Some performers wore beautiful gowns that floated across the stage and others dressed like debonair statesmen. Within seconds, the stage filled up with undertones of lively background chatter, full-bodied choral singing and elegantly choreographed dance numbers, which I typically expect from a Broadway show.

Joo Won Kang, at right, sings as he portrays the character Giorgio Germont in Minnesota Opera’s production of La Traviata. Fellow cast members Jesús León as Alfredo Germont, Nicole Cabell and Violetta Valéry are at left. (Minnesota Opera photo by Dan Norman)

La Traviata reveals graceful arias and transcending instrumental musicianship. The poignant opera primarily featured a trio of spectacular vocalists: Nicole Cabell (Violetta Valery), Jesus Leon (Alfredo Germont) and Young Joo An (Giorgio Germont). It was awe inspiring to see and hear culturally and racially diverse opera singers on The Ordway’s stage, given that performers cast are typically Caucasian. Easy on the eyes and ears, Cabell, Leon and An’s combined brilliance and intertwined lyrics, captured the opera from the 1800’s. The opera drew in an enthusiastic full house on opening night. Not surprising, the show ended with a standing ovation and several curtain calls, even after the two-hour run. The collective and exceptional vocal trio breathed life into composed music by, Giuseppe Verdi and libretto, Francesco Maria Piave, which dates back to the mid 1800’s. La Traviata’s Opera cultivated a nostalgic fairy tale that pulled at my heartstrings. Truly superior vocalists sang eloquent arias that were a success.

This love story unfolds with a familiar story line that captures love and tragedy. The musical score, orchestra and full cast on stage (scene one) grabbed my attention from the very beginning. The dramatic story line reveals a tragic tug of war, which forces Alfredo (played by Jesus Leon) to choose between his over bearing father (played by Young Joo An) and the love of his life Violetta (played by Nicole Cabell). Emotionally torn between family loyalty and passionate infatuation, Giorgio (Alfred’s father) boxes in Alfredo who begrudgingly chooses family loyalty over his true love Violetta.

Nicole Cabell’s rhythmically performed cadenzas throughout each aria are a perfect match along side Young Joo An’s impassioned baritone vocals. Cabell’s soprano range had no boundaries. Cabell’s virtuosic ability to endlessly run lines were elegant and full-scale. After Violetta falls hopelessly in love with Alfredo, Alfredo’s father (Giorgio) grows impatient and becomes more determined than ever to break up the hopeless romantics.

Joo Won Kang, left, sings as he portrays Giorgio Germont, with Jesús León as Alfredo Germont, in the Minnesota Opera production of La Traviata. (Minnesota Opera photo by Dan Norman)

Eventually, Giorgio wears Violetta down with his unrelenting and incessant arguments. Unbeknownst to Violetta, she leaves the only true love she would ever know.

Woven into the opera’s oratorio were themes of religious undertones, which Giorgio abuses to split up Alfredo and Violetta. Young Joo An (who plays Giorgio) blends in precise lyrics with gusto. An, who sings baritone is no stranger to noteworthy performances. His forte to dance lyrics and notes, alongside Cabell was genius. An’s soulful talents, kept the audience in suspense. It’s impossible to accentuate one vocalist over the other. Cabell and An’s sophisticated timing was impeccable. The soprano and baritone’s mellifluous lines were dynamic and first rate.

Alfredo, (played by Jesus Leon) is the love of Violetta’s life. In the third act, Alfredo yearns to return to Violetta under tragic conditions. Jesus Leon (who played Alfredo) however, was no third wheel to the dynamic duo. Together, the trio crescendos story lines, which brought some ticket holders to tears. Despite the plot, story line and tragic ending being a familiar story line in 21st century, there was no way the 18th century composers and libretto could predict that this opera would be just as relevant today. The trials and tribulations that continue to plague us in modern society haven’t changed that much.

The lyrics and creatively, master minded physical backdrop of nuanced smoky shadows and mirrors on stage, seemed to foreshadow the predictable ending. Even so it’s impossible to know for certain when an opera will be able to reincarnate musical work written in the 1800’s. Yet, once again, the Minnesota Opera debuted incredible talent in this brilliant performance. The curtain call resulted in an immediate standing ovation.

(Minnesota Opera photo by Dan Norman)

So far, La Traviata is my favorite opera of the three I’ve attended. Culturally bias? Maybe? Biased when it comes to astonishing talent? Definitely!

3 thoughts on “‘La Traviata’ moves Ordway audiences

  1. I enjoyed reading this expressive review about ‘La Traviata’. This is a opera that I now wish that I could have seen. Congratulations to the talented artists that made this opera a success.

  2. This review inspired me to want to attend the Minnesota Opera at the Ordway since it so vividly described the plot line as well as the skill of the performers making it a memorable experience. I liked the way the reviewer commented on personal reactions to make opera feel accessible to even opera newcomers. I hope “La Traviata” comes back soon.

  3. Beautiful review! However, Joo Won Kang sang Giorgio Germont at the opening on May 4th, not Young Joo An (Young Joo is in the cast that performs tonight and Saturday).

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