Beautiful singing, colorful costumes, exotic fortune-tellers, exciting Spanish dancers, a great orchestra, and above all, wonderful music composed by Giuseppe Verdi made the season opener of the Piedmont Opera a major artistic event in the Triad region.

Under the refined musical direction of James Allbritten and stage direction of Steven LaCosse, we were offered a superbly sung and played performance of one of Verdi’s most popular operas, La Traviata (“The Wayward Woman”) in the Stevens Center of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

The opera, composed to the libretto of Francesco Maria Piave, derived from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, and based on a true story, was premiered at the La Fenice (The Phoenix) opera house in Venice, Italy in 1853.

Violetta Valéry, a Parisian courtesan popular in the 1840s falls profoundly in love with Alfredo Germont, a young nobleman who falls equally in love with Violetta. Overcoming the past, the two move in together and are happy until Alfredo’s father secretly begs Violetta to break off relations with Alfredo for the sake of his younger sister who is about to announce her betrothal. Secretly aware that she is ill (presumably from “consumption” [tuberculosis]), she sacrifices her love to safeguard the integrity of Alfredo’s family, all hidden from Alfredo himself. Her death at the end of the opera reveals the true nobility of her sentiments and those of Georgio Germont, Alfredo’s father.

In the title role of the courtesan, Violetta Valéry, Yulia Lysenko was superb! Her voice is beautiful, capable of myriad colors and moods, in all registers, powerful when needed, cajoling, seductive – even frivolous (“Sempre libera” [“Forever free”]). Now in her third role at the Piedmont Opera, Lysenko continues to impress with her command of each role and the versatility of her voice!

Tenor Orson Van Gay, II has a charming warm tone, very even in all registers, with an intense vibrato, well-suited to his role of earnest young lover hoping to woo La Violetta away from her coterie of admirers and imitators.

Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, was played by veteran baritone Robert Overman, whose profound knowledge of his role made him very credible, especially as he came to realize that as the spoiler he was responsible for the profound tragedy of the denounced love between his son and Violetta. Overman’s voice is powerful and profound and his presence on stage convincing.

As the jilted rival for the attentions of La Violetta, the Barone Douphol, sung by baritone Scott MacLeod was perfect for the part, with a flaring temper and volatile ego suited to his role.

Donald Hartmann was the ever-vigilant doctor with the amazing bass-baritone voice. Flora Bervoix, Violetta’s friend, was well sung by mezzo-soprano Kristin Schweke as was the rather austere role of Annina, Violetta’s maid, sung by soprano Danielle Romano.

The orchestra and conducting were superb as well, from the tragic soft overture through the many impressive rhythmic off-beat sections (rapid-fire “oom-PAH oom-PAH /oom-PAH oom-PAH” figures accompanying the melody on stage). Clarinetist Ron Rudkin was impressive in the subdued counter-melody to the tragic moment in Act 2 where Violetta torments herself on how to write her decision to separate from Alfredo. The opera is sung in Italian with super-titles in English projected on a screen above the stage. The raked stage is intriguing but was constantly on my mind as a potential falling hazard. The large chorus kept tempo and excitement during their several presences in party scenes. Staging (Steven LaCosse), lighting (Norman Coates) and choreography (Gary Taylor) were all expressive and well meshed into the dramatic moment.

Don’t miss this event! The performance repeats Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night; see sidebar for details.