As far as tenor Dmitri Pittas is concerned, everyone should want to come to Houston Grand Opera's season opener, La traviata, in no small part to experience opera as they probably have never done before — up close and personal.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he promises. "The last row is no more than 100 feet from the lip of the stage."
Thanks to destruction from the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey, the Wortham Center is down for the count until further notice and the opera moved its production to part of the George R. Brown Convention Center in what is now being refashioned into Resilience Hall.
Pittas, last seen in Houston in The Elixir of Love, is back to sing the Alfredo role, the first time he’s done it in eight years. In Resilience Hall there will be no orchestra pit; the orchestra will be placed behind the stage, bringing the opera singers considerably closer to the audience.
The somewhat bumpy road that HGO encountered in mounting this production seems appropriate given the history of Verdi's now-classic piece. La traviata was a complete failure when it first opened in Venice in 1853. By several accounts, audience members didn’t think the lead singer was suited for the role of the consumptive Violetta and weren’t too fond of some of the other singers’ performances.
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It was revised and taken to other cities, and the fortunes of La traviata (“The Fallen Woman”) did a complete 180, although there were still questions raised about its morality; its central character is, after all, the courtesan Violetta, who falls in love with Alfredo but gives him up when his father demands it. La traviata has it all: love, devotion and bad choices galore. Oh and, as Pittas says, "The music is sublime."
“[Alfredo] is a love-struck romantic who ultimately loses the love of his life because he doesn’t follow his heart,” he says. He does regret what he has done and rushes to her side, but by then it is too late. Russian soprano and former HGO Studio Artist Albina Shagimuratova returns to Houston to sing the Violetta role which represents a reunion of sorts since they sang together in Lucia di Lammermoor in 2011, Pittas says.
"It's not going to be what they're used to, but it is going to be exciting," he adds. "Once they settle in their seats they hear the overture, they hear the first couple minutes of singing, I think their ears will allow them to be transformed in the new space and the new journeys we're taking them on this season."
Performances are scheduled for October 20 through November 11 at 7 p.m. Friday October 20; 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, Wednesday and Friday, November 3; and 2 p.m. Sundays at Resilience Hall, George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida De Las Americas. Sung in Italian with English projections. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $18 to $269.50.