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When song tells a timeless story

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 20, 1998



BOSTON

Ah, Violetta. I just can't stop thinking about you!

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I could have been home last Sunday watching TV as Doug Flutie, the little quarterback with the big heart, led his Buffalo Bills to another victory. I should have been out raking oak leaves, those leathery brown paratroopers who glide down to smother my lawn.

Instead, I was at the Boston Lyric Opera production of "La Traviata," and Violetta - noble Violetta! - was in trouble. Big trouble.

Yes, she had been a courtesan in Paris. But young nobleman Alfredo had seen more in her and offered marriage. At first she had rejected him, seeking happiness in pleasure, "new delights." But she soon realized that love was what gave life meaning, and Alfredo's was unconditional. Yet after only a short time with him, tragedy enters in the form of Alfredo's father, who demands, for the sake of appearances, she leave Alfredo - and not tell him why.

Nearly three hours of exquisite music by Giuseppe Verdi later, Violetta is bedridden, her health broken along with her dreams. Alfredo's father finally tells him of Violetta's sacrifice. They both rush to her, and she forgives them. As she sings in joy, she realizes her illness and pain have vanished and her strength has returned. Just as suddenly, she collapses and dies. Curtain drops. I fumble for a handkerchief. (No, really!)

Violetta is "one of the great creations of nineteenth-century drama," says "The Definitive Kobb's Opera Book." "Operas survive because the librettist has known how to create a character and the composer how to match it with his musical genius."

"La Traviata" is such a pairing. It weds the pure joy of the human voice, in all its beauty, variety, and expressiveness, as produced by trained and talented singers, with a story worth telling. It moves far beyond mere melodrama or sweet soap opera, profoundly reaching hearts.

Boston Lyric stages "La Traviata" in the same period in which it was written, the mid-19th century. But its story, and popularity, are timeless. Six other major productions of "La Traviata" will be seen in the next couple of months around the world.

Old operas like this one survive, notes "Kobb's," because they "are not make believe; they are real."

This weekend, I'm back to football and leaves. But maybe I'll be humming an aria under my breath.

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