To better appreciate the significance of Opera Omaha's newly opened 55th season, imagine if “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables” — respectively the top two musicals in combined Broadway and London performances — were produced at the Orpheum Theater four months apart.
The corresponding worldwide honors in opera belong to Mozart's “The Magic Flute,” which awaits Opera Omaha audiences in February, and Giuseppe Verdi's “La Traviata,” which opened at the Orpheum on Friday night with a lavish musical and visual telling of the tale of a dying Paris courtesan redeemed by love.
Because of Saturday night's John Williams program by the Omaha Symphony (which provided superb accompaniment in the Slosburg Hall pit under conductor Joseph Rescigno), Omahans have only one more opportunity — at 2 p.m. Sunday — to experience an opera that struggled for acclaim after its 1853 premiere but features at least two arias that even novice patrons likely have heard somewhere before.
Based on a story by “The Three Musketeers” novelist Alexandre Dumas, “La Traviata” centers on Violetta Valery, whose health is fading from tuberculosis. She's quite used to losing herself in the refined yet decadent pursuits of wealthy Parisians in the early 1700s.
But she doesn't count on young Alfredo Germont, who sweeps away her cynicism with his devotion — but in the process prompts his father, Giorgio, to demand that Violetta give him up to preserve his family.
All this would be difficult to follow if audiences weren't blessed with a captioning screen above the stage to translate the opera's Italian arias and recitatives. Sunday's audience also will enjoy impassioned acting as well as singing from tenor Joshua Kohl (Alfredo) and baritone Jake Gardner (Giorgio), whose characters both are changed forever by Violetta's embrace of her last chance to selflessly love another human being.
Soprano Inna Dukach's portrayal of Violetta seemed to grow as the opera progressed, though that likely can be attributed to the opera's dramatic arc. Her mastery of Verdi's vocal demands is evident throughout in her rich vibrato delivery and her seemingly effortless visits to the vocal stratosphere.
By contrast, Dukach's character seemed dramatically flat in the soirťe. Consider, though, the jaded, shallow nature of Violetta's life up to that point. Dukach's presentation changes profoundly as Violetta struggles with her reaction to Alfredo's suit, surrenders to it and then bravely confronts the reality that a fully realized and lived-out love includes periods of suffering as well as times of bliss.
The other singing roles and the chorus shine when given the opportunity, particularly in the soirťe scene and a subsequent masked ball featuring depictions of Gypsies, bullfights and flashy flamenco dances.
The audience also should take note of the dazzling colors in the women's gowns and the angled set walls and ceiling beams that create the impression of massive mansion rooms.