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Utah Opera to present a relatable, tragic tale with 'La Traviata'

Published: Saturday, Jan. 11 2014 1:00 p.m. MST

Cody Austin makes his Utah Opera debut as Alfredo, with Sara Gartland as Violetta, in "La Traviata."

Utah Opera

It’s a story of love, parental intervention, betrayal, forgiveness and death.

“If you take away the period and the costumes, which are different than what we are wearing today, the core of the story is very universal, and it’s very human,” said Jose Maria Condemi, director of Utah Opera’s upcoming production.

The Utah Opera will make its return to the recently remodeled Capitol Theatre Jan. 18 with Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

The opera tells the doleful tale of a French courtesan, Violetta, who lives life in the Paris party scene while concealing the secret that she is sick with consumption. Her story becomes even more complicated when she falls in love with a young suitor, Alfredo, and the two move to a house in the country despite a lack of support from Alfredo’s family. The three-act opera continues on with hidden deals, heartbreak, thrilling celebrations, dueling suitors and a bittersweet reunion.

“The story is told in an interesting way, and there’s lots of surprises in it,” Condemi said. “Even for people that know how it’s going to end, it’s fun to see how they’re going to get there.”

Sara Gartland, last seen on the Utah Opera stage as Curley’s wife in “Of Mice and Men,” will take on the role of the glamorous Violetta, while Cody Austin will make his Utah Opera debut as the love-struck Alfredo. Both find elements of their characters with which they personally identify. Gartland said although her wardrobe is not as fabulous as that of Violetta, her previous health challenges make it easier to relate to the courtesan’s battle with tuberculosis and desire to persevere.

“I can understand that point of view of not wanting anything to get in the way of the experience, even though something is going on,” Gartland said.

Austin likewise finds real-life inspiration for Alfredo’s honesty and immense capacity to love.

“It’s not that hard to play because the way (Alfredo) feels toward Violetta is the way I feel toward my wife,” Austin said.

Condemi, who is directing “La Traviata” for the fourth time, noted the cast’s range of experience with the piece. James Westman, who will be making his Utah Opera debut as Germont, has played the part in more than 100 performances throughout his career. Austin has also previously played his role, while Gartland will perform as Violetta for the first time.

“I find that exciting because it’s the right mix of familiarity of the piece,” Condemi said.

Members of the cast and artistic staff attribute “La Traviata,” cited by Operabase.com as the most performed opera in the world during the 2012-13 season, as one of the great operas.

“ ‘Traviata’ is so successful because it’s so well-written that sometimes you could not even know what the Italian means, and you can feel (the emotion) in Verdi’s music,” said conductor Robert Tweten.

Gartland and Austin listed living life to its fullest, cherishing every moment with loved ones, and the importance of communication as life lessons audiences can glean from “La Traviata.”

“There’s something everyone can relate to,” Austin stated.

“La Traviata” will be performed Jan. 18, 20, 22 and 24 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. at Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South. The opera will be sung in Italian with English subtitles.

Tickets range from $18 to $95 and can be purchased in person at the Abravanel Hall ticket office, over the phone at 801-355-2787 or online at utahopera.org. Additional information about the story of "La Traviata" is also available on the opera's website.

Email: wbutters@deseretnews.com

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