TAMPA — It's doubtful that anyone involved with Opera Tampa ever thought that developing a large local audience for grand opera would be done quickly.
Now in its 16th season, Opera Tampa continues to make strides, but isn't there yet. Its current, excellent production of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata didn't sell out on opening night, and tickets are still available for today's matinee.
It deserves to be seen by many more people. La Traviata is one of the world's most popular operas, with at least one song — the boisterous drinking song in Act I — that's ingrained in our collective cultural subconscious. Its story of tragic love is brisk but poignant, and the two central characters are flawed but appealing.
The Opera Tampa production, directed by Eric Dillner, is bright and buoyant. It features excellent singing in the lead roles and a stunning performance of Verdi's relentlessly beautiful music by the Opera Tampa Orchestra, conducted by Anton Coppola.
The opening-night audience was about three-quarters of Morsani Hall's capacity. That's more than respectable, but with only two performances of a lovely production of a popular opera (the third most often produced worldwide, behind Carmen and Madame Butterfly) one might hope for a sold-out house.
The story concerns Violetta, a courtesan in 19th century Paris, who gives up her life of transitory pleasure for a chance at enduring love with Alfredo, a young man with whom she has become smitten from afar.
They live together in apparent bliss for some months outside of the city, until Alfredo's father visits Violetta and demands that she immediately end the relationship. Her reputation is harming his family, he says, especially Alfredo's young sister, who is about to be married. He convinces Violetta that leaving would be best for Alfredo.
Alfredo, though, is furious and assumes he's been dumped for another man. By the time he finds out the truth and seeks out Violetta to reconcile, she is ill and almost literally on her deathbed.
Opera Tampa veteran Elizabeth de Trejo (Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor and Juliette in Romeo et Juliette) and newcomer Ryan MacPherson deliver precise and heart-rending performances as the young lovers. Jeffery Mattsey, as Alfredo's father, isn't quite as charismatic but wields an impressively powerful baritone.
Lighting designer Mike Riggs adds beautiful and evocative touches throughout, and the costumes supplied by Utah Opera are opulent and colorful.
The sets are individually impressive. The four interiors are opulent and expansive. But the basic framework for all four sets is identical, and by the end of the performance, one could wish for a bit more visual variety. And someone who really wanted to quibble might point out that de Trejo and MacPherson look too old for their roles.
But those are minor flaws that an audience will easily and gladly overlook. Opera Tampa's La Traviata is a marvelous production that ought to appeal to both connoisseurs and neophytes.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at email@example.com.