AURORA — Violetta is an old friend of Cecillia Violetta López, who has sung the lead in “La Traviata” in eight productions.
“For good or for bad she has been dubbed my character,” joked López following the dress rehearsal Wednesday night. But this performance is different. This Violetta is special.
López’s daughter, 13-year-old Sara Partida-López, has always been by her side.
“She has been exposed to opera since she was little,” recalled López. “She used to sit through my lesson and theory classes. She even helped me with a project for my music history class.”
Now, years later, Partida-López travels with her mother, watching her perform from the wings.
But this performance is different. This “La Traviata” is special.
Partida-López knows this opera, and when Veda Zuponcic of the Northern Lights Music Festival saw her off to the side.
Fast forward to today, where the auditorium at Mesabi East High School, named after Zuponcic, is an intimate performance space. On Wednesday evening, the pit orchestra filled the floor just below the stage. The lights came up and the audience was welcomed into the Paris salon of Violetta, circa the early 19th century.
Violetta wore a blush gown and the stage quickly filled with the full cast of “La Traviata” in ballgowns and tail coats. The women wore coordinating white gowns with black detailing and among them was Partida-López as she shared the stage with her mother, the famed soprano.
“This Violetta is special because we get to share it together,” said López gushing with motherly pride and beaming after a wonderful rehearsal. She talked about how recently they have been “nerding out” to the “La Traviata” soundtrack while in the car. “This opera has all of the emotions. “It is a storyline that resonates with a lot of people. I often think ‘Who in this audience needs to hear their story?’”
It is this ability to connect that has lead to a resurgence in the artform of opera.
“Opera has been around for a longtime,” explained stage director, Robert Neu, during the intermission. “It speaks to our heart. There is a reason great art survives. It has something to say to us.”
“Opera, like musical theatre, combines great music with a story — a human story,” said conductor, Darko Butorac. “This opera has that. It is set 150 years ago but it could be today. It is an incredible and emotional experience. When opera goes well, it is the greatest artform.”
The world premiere of “La Traviata” was in 1853 at the Teatro la Fenice in Venice.
While the principal performers in this version are professional singers or singers involved in the opera apprentice program, the chorus is made up of area residents.
Butorac explained that one reason rehearsals for this production of “La Traviata” have gone so well is that the chorus of local singers have worked so hard.
“A chorus is not a critical element to most operas,” Butorac said. “But, if the chorus is great, the whole show is great. I am impressed with how the local singers are bringing their heart to every rehearsal and performance.”
Neu agreed that the local chorus members are helping create an amazing “La Traviata.”
“They have all worked very hard, are responsive and engaged,” he said. “That has been so important.”
“La Traviata” is part of this year’s Northern Lights Music Festival. It is an opera in three acts with music composed by Guiseppe Verdi with the librettist, who wrote the song text, Francesco Maria Piave.
“La Traviata” is performed in Italian with English subtitles projected above the stage.
The principal cast members are: Cecilia Violetta López (Violetta), Alex Richardson (Alfredo) and Jeffrey Mattsey (Germont).
The artistic staff includes conductor Butorac and stage director Neu.
There will be three performances across the Iron Range. Friday, at 7 p.m., it will be performed in the Veda Zuponcic Auditorium at Mesabi East High School in Aurora. Beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Mesabi East Media Center, a pre-opera talk will be given by Bill Bastian. Immediately following the opera there will be an opening night gala at the Aurora Senior Center. Tickets are $25 a person and the event will be catered by Douglas Dahlgren.
At 3 p.m. Sunday, “La Traviata” will be performed at the Chisholm High School Auditorium. Beginning at 1:30 p.m., in the Chisholm Jr. High Library, a pre-opera talk will be given by Bill Bastian. Immediately following the opera there will be a dinner with the artists at Valentini’s Supper Club. Tickets are $15 a person and reservations are required and can be made by calling 218-254-2607.
Finally, at 7 p.m. on Monday, “La Traviata” will be performed in the Washington Auditorium at Ely High School. Beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Washington Auditorium Library, a pre-opera talk will be given by Bill Bastian.
Tickets can be purchased at the door. Cost is $40 for adults and $15 for students and 18.
Butorac encourages everyone to come and enjoy the opera.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” he asked. “Nothing. You can leave at anytime if you don’t like it. This is not a prison! On the up side, you could discover the amazing world of opera.”
The Northern Lights Music Festival is a three-week event that travels throughout the Iron Range bringing a variety of classical musical performers into libraries other community areas. For more information on the festival and to see a full list of events, visit their website at https://www.northernlightsmusic.org.