Experience Verdi’s “La Traviata”

New Semi-Staged Production Streaming on June 5

How do you stage an opera that’s a love story without the characters making any physical contact? That was stage director Robert Neu’s challenge when Carl St.Clair contacted him last winter about collaborating on a production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” that takes into account the complicated covid-19 protocols necessary to perform during this unprecedented time.

Neu explains in his director’s note that he decided to “capitalize on the psychological journey of these three fascinating characters. You will see each character relive his/her tragic past is his/her own mind.”

Music Director Carl St.Clair directs a socially distanced Pacific Symphony and a cast that includes the Mexican-American soprano and “rising star” (Opera News) Cecilia Violetta López as Violetta Valéry; the award-winning American tenor John Riesen as Alfredo Germont; and Metropolitan Opera house favorite, baritone Jeffrey Mattsey as Giorgio Germont. Twelve cameras filmed the semi-staged opera in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall stage.

This “La Traviata,” one of the first to be designed and directed specifically with the safety of performers integrated into every element of the production from blocking to filming, will be broadcast online Sat., June 5 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 for 28-day household access. For more information or to buy tickets, visit PacificSymphony.org/Traviata.

About the Cast:

Cecilia Violetta López (Violetta Valéry)
“López is as compelling a Violetta as I’ve seen. As the consumptive courtesan, who, for the purest of reasons, is compelled to relinquish her true love, only ultimately to die in his arms. López managed to infuse every gesture, even in her most consumptive paroxysm, with suggestive sexuality. Her voice, big and rich over its entire range, is remarkably agile for its size and as focused when she sings quietly as it is when she just lets it go. Her ‘Sempre Libera’ was as convincingly radiant and joyful as her ‘Addio del Passato’ was sad and wistful.”—The Washington Post

John Riesen (Alfredo Germont)
“John Riesen has opera’s Emotional Boy, Alfredo, firmly in hands. He is desperately in love and his heart is on his sleeve for the entire opera…Riesen is note-perfect and powerful in his solos, an impressive tenor with dramatics to match. He gains power as the performance continues until his icy public confrontation with his lost love at her firend’s soirée.“—Naples Daily News

Jeffrey Mattsey (Giorgio Germont)
“Jeff Mattsey proved a suave, even charming interpreter of the title role, musically secure and with playful intelligence. Nor did the singer shy away from Giovanni’s ugly side.”—The Salt Lake Tribune

Robert Neu (Stage Director)
Known for his highly theatrical and musically sensitive work, Robert Neu has directed over one hundred productions of operas, musicals and plays throughout the country. Neu’s recent productions include “The Magic Flute” and “L’Enfant et les sortileges” for Pacific Symphony, among many others.

An Online Learning Experience: “The Traviata Project”

For the first time, Pacific Symphony is augmenting its opera performance with a series of online learning experiences to expand the “La Traviata” internet event. In the weeks leading to the June 5 streaming broadcast, Pacific Symphony Assistant Conductor, Dr. Jacob Sustaita, will host three one-hour online sessions available for $35, taking place on May 19, May 26 and June 1 at 5 p.m. Dr. Sustaita, with an extensive background in opera, will examine the story and complex personal backgrounds of the main characters, take his audiences behind the scenes with interviews of the cast, Music Director Carl St.Clair and Stage Director Robert Neu.

Assistant Conductor Dr. Jacob Sustaita

The Symphony is pleased to co-present “The Traviata Project” in cooperation with Laguna Beach Seniors at The SusiQ, where the Project will headline their robust series of online courses for their large and active membership. “How proud and pleased we are to have this partnership with Laguna Beach Seniors” commented John Forsyte, the Symphony’s president. “After all, Carl St.Clair is Laguna Beach’s ‘first citizen of music’ so this partnership between Pacific Symphony and Laguna Beach Seniors is only fitting.”

Course Description

Session #1: Verdi’s La Traviata: Love, Pathos, Sacrifice, and Illness
Wednesday, May 19 5:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Exploring the opera’s narrative, characters, theme, and meaning. Discussions with Music Director Carl St.Clair and cast members. Insights for new and experienced opera listeners.

Session #2: Alone Together / Together Alone: Behind the Scenes
Wednesday, May 26 5:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Verdi’s confronting reflection and commentary of life in his own time, and how Pacific Symphony and partners produced this masterpiece in Covid-times. Discussions with Bob Neu, Stage Director. Interviews with cast and backstage technical staff. Exclusive video from rehearsals and taping.

Session #3: Behind the Score: From Failure to Celebrated Icon
Wednesday, June 2 5:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Verdi’s synthesis of style, drama, virtuosity and humanity. Conversation with Carl St.Clair, Soprano Cecilia Violetta López and Stage Director Robert Neu.

To purchase admission for the three-part digital seminar, “The Traviata Project,” call Pacific Symphony’s box office at (714) 755-5799.

How Music Can Rewire the Brain

Music continues to prove its miraculous ability to heal in the recovery of former United States Representative Gabby Giffords. On January 8, 2011, Giffords, a strong advocate against gun violence, was shot in the head during an assassination attempt and mass shooting that tragically claimed the lives of six other individuals. Music has since assumed a central role in her path toward neurological healing, thanks to recent developments in research regarding neurologic music therapy. Brain trauma and damage of neural connectors caused Giffords to struggle with paralysis and aphasia, a condition that affects one’s ability to communicate.

A patient of music therapy, Giffords has revived her passions in playing French horn and singing, consequently recovering her motor skills, cognition and speech. Listening to music is a complex event that requires the comprehension of multiple different elements (such as timbre, intonation and pitch) and permeates throughout different regions of the brain. Neurological music therapy is therefore unique in its capacity to generate brain plasticity, which reconnects the links between different brain cells. As a testament to the impact of music on her recovery, Giffords has even taken to utilizing musical notation on the scripts of her speeches to aid in her delivery.

While interdisciplinary research in music and medicine currently remains in its early stages, the profound intersections between music and neuroscience prove to be more life-changing than ever. Read more on Gabby Giffords’ recovery here.