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Published April 10 2010

‘La Traviata’ features a lavish set, convincing costumes

“La Traviata” opens with this overwhelming sense of Hedonistic abandon that is thin, engaging and, admittedly, enticing.

What is surprising is that it progressively transforms into something deeper; something that, itself, speaks of transformation as well as redemption.

The Fargo-Moorhead Opera production of the popular Verdi opera opened Friday night at North Dakota State University’s Festival Concert Hall. It tells the story of a pleasure-seeking Paris courtesan who falls in love with Alfredo and sacrifices her lavish life to be with him.

The set is lavish, with billowing scarlet and white curtains, faux (I assume) marble flooring and stately pillars. The period costume work is convincing and well-done, aside from a couple of unfortunate wigs.

Those aforementioned hedonistic beginnings are helped along by the carefree, raucous ensemble numbers as they gather with the lead female, Violetta, to essentially party the night away. Those on-stage cast numbers swell with around three dozen vocalists who bring moving force to the production even when they’re only singing their good-bye’s after a party.

Guest soprano Manuela Kriscak sells her abandon to pleasure with her beautiful voice, which just serves to kick the difficulty of her transformation to something more honorable up a couple of notches.

NDSU grad student Erin Olson was impressed with Kriscak.

“Well, that last (number by Kriscak) was awesome,” she said during an intermission break.

After Alfredo, played by the FMO Artistic Director David Hamilton, expresses his love to Violetta – a love that moves her as she’s never been moved before – she struggles with a choice between following what she perceives as true love and continues to follow her immoral life of pleasure.

“Forever free,” she sings. “I must flit from joy to joy.”

Yet, she chooses Alfredo.

It’s as if she is being redeemed from her previously immoral life. When Alfredo’s father comes and asks her to leave Alfredo so that the engagement of Alfredo’s sister will not be ruined, Violetta speaks of giving up Alfredo as giving up her opportunity for redemption.

The part of Alfredo’s father is played by Concordia College professor Peter Halverson, and I am convinced that Halverson could blow out the back wall of Festival Concert Hall with one blast of his mighty baritone voice if he wanted.

Violetta’s redemption continues as she chooses to help Alfredo’s sister by giving up her beloved Alfredo. At one point, she sees strength from heaven in her quest to separate from Alfredo, a character Hamilton plays with the seeming ease of a professional.

Toward the end as Violetta is being overcome by tuberculosis, she speaks of her soul being at rest, saying a priest came to see her the evening before. And this woman who once lived only flit from pleasure to pleasure, cries out to for God to “forgive her and receive her in Heaven.”

Before she dies she says, “I feel reborn ... I’m returning to life.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734