By Henry Etzkowitz
Was the master of ceremony’s closing words in his introductory remarks a Pirandellian
moment, a reprise of the late Living Theatre’s propensity to break the fourth wall? He
announced that a group of mobility impaired persons had not appeared and that we
were invited to take the reserved places in the first row. As the lights dimmed, a young
woman, assisted by an older woman supporting her arm, entered the auditorium from a
door facing the audience. She stumbled, almost fell, but then instead of moving to a
theatre seat, turns and lies down on a chaise lounge front and center stage.
Violetta, a consumption wracked charismatic courtesan has returned home, awaiting
the homage of friends and admirers. She is the subject of the force of love beyond
moderation, filial and cross-gender. La Traviata, literally the fallen one, the old fangled
term for a woman who breaks social convention and loves whom she pleases, when
she pleases and for what she pleases, in exchange for emotional or financial
recompense, or both, in whatever proportion, in other words: acting as a conventional
La Traviata’s theme is the sociometry and historiography of past present and future
relationships. Can there be a break from past with new start allowed? Or is there no
hope for personal or relational pivot, with past always shaping future? In La Traviata’s
gendered perspective, men represent the constraints of culture while women see or at
least hope for the possibility of change, perhaps because they, like Violetta, have been
most severely constrained by their past as orphan and concubine.
Men are the enforcers of cultural constraints, exemplified by Alfredo’s father who insists
she must break her relationship with his son so that his daughter’s marriage will not be
stained by her presence in the family. His insistence on societal constraints is only
modified by courtly gender conventions when he insists that his son not revenge upon
Violetta for her break with him, full knowing that he was the proximate cause of the
savage effects of grinding traditional norms on their relationship, a cross class couples
futile effort to bridge stratification and cultural divides. Verdi’s tragedy of social norms,
drifts inevitably to its logical conclusion, transforming love into hate, happiness into
misery, with enlightening knowledge late arriving.
Only death allows a release from overweening social ties and perhaps not even then as
Violetta foresees a happy future for her lover. After her death, he will be freed to follow a
conventional marital path accompanied by a hope that the memory of their fated love
will be celebrated by a future imagined couple. Fat chance!
Michelle Drever’s Violetta is a force of nature, acted and sung with compelling verve and
deep-seated hopelessness. Drever is the rare combination of actor/singer for whom
opera was intended but all too seldom finds in a single performer in such high
combination. Drever will inspire claques to follow her career, opera house to house!
Indeed strong voices accompanied by heartfelt acting is the sine non qua of Pocket’s
Traviata, not only its leading role, but closely followed by Igor Viera’s powerful baritone
as Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father. These two are the strongest duo in a series of
stellar performances, especially Violetta in all her relationships. Sergio Gonzalez, begins
cautiously, enacting the role of hesitant lover, but embodies tenderness, charm and
even empathy, collectively evoked by the fateful triad as the tragedy evolves.
Pocket’s always excellent choral ensemble, with drinking song belt out and subtle
tender accompaniment, serve as Greek chorus to the principals in this 19 th century
gendered tragedy. It’s essential themes persist, with Nora Ephron’s film of a riven
couple, Heartburn, a relatively recent instance. With singing/acting symbiotic, opera
once again proves itself master medium, easily outweighing motion picture in
emotional power, if not evocative image.
Pocket’s rendition of Verdi’s disquisition on social ties, their making breaking and
renewing, is a ‘do not miss ‘event.” Following Mountain View’s Performing Arts Center
opening, La Traviata will be at Berkeley’s Hill side Club on the 17th and San Francisco’s
Legion of Honor, 24 July. Tickets