Tulsa Opera has enlisted a couple of superstars to help open its 2010-11 season. Soprano Kelly Kaduce and tenor Joshua Kohl star in La Traviata, which continues its run this weekend in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Chapman Music Hall, 110 E. 2nd St.
Set in 19th-century Paris, Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata chronicles the ill-fated romance of Violetta Valéry (Kaduce) and Alfredo Germont (Kohl). Forced to decide between her independence and her true love, Violetta chooses the latter. However, Alfredo's father, Giorgio (baritone Peter Lindskoog), soon intervenes in their relationship, with devastating consequences.
Kaduce is making her Tulsa Opera debut. Hailed by Opera News as "an exceptional actress whose performance was as finely modulated dramatically as it was musically," Kaduce created the title role in David Carlson's Anna Karenina and is featured in the Grammy-nominated recording of the opera.
Immediately before her Tulsa appearances, Kaduce, whose signature roles include Mimi, Rusalka, Salome and Thais, among others, opened the 2011 Santa Fe Opera season starring in a new production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly.
"She's a great actress," said Kostis Protopapas, Tulsa Opera's artistic director, who went to school with Kaduce at Boston University. "She's a performer who, when she's on stage, really draws your attention. She's very natural; there's nothing forced about her performance. She just really kind of commands the stage."
Kohl, who was called a "tenor to watch" by The Boston Herald and was recently singled out for his "glorious, relaxed performance" by Opera News, also makes his Tulsa Opera debut in La Traviata. During the 2009-10 season, Kohl debuted with Utah Opera as Macduff in Macbeth, Sarasota Opera as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, and Dallas Opera as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly.
"He just came out of the St. Louis Opera Theatre young artists program," Protopapas said. "He's only been out of the young artists program a couple of years, but already his career is sky rocketing. I heard him in St. Louis in apprentice auditions not this summer but the summer before, and I engaged him right away. And ever since, his calendar has been filling up.
"He's very good-looking, tall; he has great charisma, and he and Kelly have great chemistry. So he is one of those performers who really get you out of your seat -- a no-holds-barred kind of performer."
Kostis said Kaduce and Kohl defy the stereotypical image some people (who don't usually frequent the opera) have of opera singers.
"The stereotype is old," Protopapas said. "You don't see that very often, but people who don't go to the opera have this thing in their mind that opera singers are very stiff and sort of grand and they kind of stand there and sing and have these weird gestures and look like a Baroque painting or something. And these performers are really young. They are what you would see in primetime TV."
Protopapas said their youth helps keep La Traviata contemporary -- which is convenient, since it's one of the rare operas that was contemporary when Verdi wrote it.
"If you think about it, a lot of operas were written on historical or mythological subjects," Protopapas said. "There aren't really that many operas that were written by composers and were set in the present -- which of course was the present at their time...
"So this was unique, and that's why it provoked an interesting reaction when it premiered. Ultimately, the first performance wasn't allowed to be set in the present time. They costumed it about 50 years (back) to add some historical remove because they felt it was going to make people uncomfortable, because the topic was also a little bit scandalous. Verdi was holding up a mirror to society, to Parisian society in particular."
The opera is based on the novel "La dame aux camélias" by Alexandre Dumas. Tulsa Opera debuted the opera in 1948 and last performed it in 2003.
"This production is set in the last 1800s, which is about 30 years later than the book was set," Protopapas said. "It's a period piece in a way, but it's amazing how it has this feel of being very real, very contemporary ... You sort of relate to the characters because they were created to be contemporary. And these guys, Kelly and Josh, impersonate characters that you think you may know. It's quite amazing actually."
La Traviata is a favorite of opera fans and also of Protopapas.
"There's something about the music that is incredibly affecting and moving," he said. "It's this simple music, but it's very profound. I'm a big Verdi fan for that exact reason.
"I think there's a lot of truth in the characters. Verdi always drew on personal experience in writing his operas, and even when he deals with characters who may be removed for five or six centuries, still those people become real in the hands of Verdi.
"The emotions depicted in La Traviata are emotions all of us have dealt with, and it's amazing to see how those emotions translate in the hands of Verdi, who has this gift of writing simple music but to the point."
Frequent guest of Tulsa Opera Johnathon Pape directs the show, which plays Friday, Oct. 15, at 7:30pm and Sunday, Oct. 17, at 2:30pm. Tickets begin at $10 and are available at the Tulsa PAC's website, tulsapac.com.
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