Entertainment News

Despite Production Cancellation, Opera Carries on with Virtual ‘Traviata’

By Guy D’Astolfo

YOUNGSTOWN – Opera Western Reserve has canceled its annual fall production this year, which was to be “La Traviata,” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But it’s creating an abridged virtual production to take its place. “A Taste of Traviata” will be released on Nov. 13 – the same day the full production was scheduled to be performed at Stambaugh Auditorium.

Scott Skiba, director of Opera Western Reserve, said the scenes in “Taste” will be filmed and then edited into a new version of the opera.

A green screen will be used to create scenery. Several areas at Stambaugh – its lobby, ballroom, staircases, gardens – will be used as sets.

“It’s a struggle for all of us, but the silver lining is we’re getting to explore some new things for an art form that is 400-plus-years-old and where the expectation for quality is so high,” Skiba said.

He and music director Susan Davenny Wyner carefully cut down the script, scenes and music into a production that will clock in at about an hour.

They are storyboarding the abridged show, just as they would a full production. “We always do storyboards but they are taking on more importance now,” Skiba said.

The number of musicians is also being drastically reduced. Instead of the usual full orchestra, a small ensemble will record the music, which will be dubbed in.

Wyner says “Taste” is not just a preview version of “Traviata,” but also an “out of the box” way for an audience to see Giuseppe Verdi’s 1853 opera.

“Yes, it will be shortened, but whole scenes will be presented,” she said. “What excites me is that this is a special opportunity to get up close to the experience. I like to imagine Verdi rehearsing, carrying his singers and artists through the work, getting them and us close to the words, the emotions, being right there musically the way we all are in the rehearsal room process.”

Wyner and Skiba will work with Stambaugh Auditorium’s recording and videography team in putting together the final product.

“This will be a taste, an exploration, very different from a full production with sets and lights and full orchestra,” Wyner said. “But this piece lends itself to intimacy, to using just a few orchestral colors or even just the piano, which is what we will be doing.”

The composer’s style lends itself to such treatment.

“Verdi works fluidly, evoking the narrative flow in the voices rather than stopping and starting with ‘set’ pieces that need big orchestral punctuation,” Wyner said.

Because of the pandemic-related uncertainty of air travel, the Boston resident will not conduct the music but instead leave the duties to a guest conductor that Skiba will choose.

“I will pick up the baton in the full production in 2021,” she said.

Viewers will be able to watch “A Taste of La Traviata” for a fee when it premieres Nov. 13 at OperaWesternReserve.org.

The number of characters will be reduced to the three leads. Skiba has not yet finalized the cast but he is exploring a way to get around social distancing requirements.

“There is so much interaction between the lead tenor and soprano that we are reaching out to singers who are already living together,” he said.

“La Traviata” would have been Skiba’s first full production as director of Opera Western Reserve, although he has directed and performed in its operas in the past. He took over the post late last year after the retirement of founder David Vosburgh.

Opera Western Reserve, now in its 17th year, performed “La Traviata” one other time, in 2010.

Skiba said he is already planning a spring production, although he cannot be sure at this time if the pandemic will permit it to be a live show, a mix of live and virtual, or just virtual.

As “A Taste of La Traviata” draws near, the opera company is launching “OWR Presents:,” a series of online shows.

Up first will be “OWR Presents: Summer Songs with Marian Vogel,” which can be streamed for free on Aug. 12.

Vogel, who has appeared in many Opera Western Reserve productions, will be accompanied by pianist Benjamin Malkevitch in the recital, which was recorded at Stambaugh. Her program will include opera favorites, show tunes and some behind-the-scenes extras.

A soprano, Vogel has performed several times at Cleveland’s Severance Hall with the Cleveland Orchestra under the baton of Franz Welser-Möst.

She has performed many leading operatic roles, including Cio-Cio San in “Madama Butterfly,” Mimi and Musetta in “La Bohème,” Violetta in “La Traviata,” Tosca in “Tosca, and Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni.”

Pictured: Marian Vogel.

Posted Aug. 6, 2020.

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