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La Traviata ~ Washington National Opera ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
October 19, 2018 

Much excitement has been generated by the hiring of new General Director and leadership partner, Timothy O’Leary, to the Washington National Opera’s senior leadership.  O’Leary served for ten years as General Director for Opera Theater of Saint Louis producing innovative programs that attracted a new audience of millennials to opera.  Working in partnership with Artistic Director Francesca Zambello it promises to be a formidable collaboration.  So, it was great anticipation that I attended his first production of the 2018 – 2019 season.  It did not disappoint.

Jacqueline Echols as Violetta ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

La traviata, Verdi’s classic grand opera of the young woman, Violetta, who finds love just as she has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, has been updated in a number of ways.  New cutting-edge, computer-controlled lighting now lends a more focused and instantaneous sense of place and mood with four fixed overhead spotlights – cyan, red, yellow and magenta – that dramatically highlight the performers.  It is the first time since the Ring cycle was presented here in 2016 that this lighting has been used in the Opera House.  For that production, ladders had to be used to mount the lights in the ceiling’s nether regions and then take them down at the end of the run.  Going forward, the lights will remain in place in the Opera House for all productions.

Violetta (soprano Jacqueline Echols) contemplates her fate in WNO’s La Traviata 2018 ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Adding to the thrill, are Tony Award-winning designer, Jess Goldstein’s gorgeous costumes, especially her replication of the scandalous satin gown from John Singer Sargent’s painting of ‘Portrait of Madame X’ from the turn of the 20th century.  Lavish red gowns and formal evening wear with red satin-lined capes for the men in the second act’s masquerade ball are breathtaking.  To further amplify the experience, new sets by Peter J. Davison incorporate swiveling ‘periactoi’ columns creating a sense of lavish elegance in the belle époque party scenes.

Zampello has switched things up too, moving Violetta’s Act Three death bed scene to the opening scene in Act One.  Flashbacks inform the rest of the opera when Violetta suddenly sheds her hospital gown to reveal a fashionable gown and the scene is transformed into a banquet.  “Pleasure is my drug of choice!” the beautiful young woman declares in a quick scene change to a Parisian party filled with glamorous guests.

Giorgio Germont (baritone Michael Chioldi) watches as his son Alfredo (tenor Mario Chang) learns that his love has betrayed him in WNO’s La traviata 2018 ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman.

Jacqueline Echols as Violetta is exceptional at the extremely difficult arias – holding the high notes while managing to soften their extensions and singing full tilt into the uppermost ranges.  Her supreme vocal talents are evenly matched with Mario Chang as Alfredo Germont her impassioned lover and Michael Chioldi as Georgio Germont, Alfredo’s manipulative dad.

Eye candy exceptionally performed.

With Deborah Nansteel as Flora Bervoix, Alexandria Shiner as Annina, Arnold Livingston Geis as Gastone, Michael Hewitt as Baron Douphol, Samuel Weiser as Marquis d’Obigny, Timothy J. Bruno as Doctor Grenvil, Aurelio Dominguez as Giuseppe, Rob McGinness as Messenger, Spencer Adamson as Flora’s Servant, the WNO Chorus, the WNO Dancers and the WNO Orchestra led by conductor Renato Palumbo.

Dancers and matadors enliven the party during WNO’s La traviata 2018 ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Choreographed by Parker Esse with lighting design by Mark McCullough.  Music by Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.

Through October 21st at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit

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