O Sole Mio
Monterey Opera Association's La Traviata marks a new level of production values for the company.
Thursday, November 4, 1999
"Up and down and back and around," is how noted soprano Nancy Williams describes the course of the Monterey Opera Association''s (MOA) development.
She should know--she sang the role of Anina in the group''s first major show, Elixir of Love>, 11 years ago, and will again take center stage this Friday as Violetta in their production of Verdi''s La Traviata, at the Golden Bough Theater in Carmel.
The fact that opera is, to many people, an intimidating art form, and the lack of an orchestra pit on the Monterey Peninsula are only two of the limitations the Monterey Opera has struggled with over the past 11 years.
Raising funds, developing an audience, finding singers and musicians willing to work for little money, locating suitable and available venues for performance, and dealing with changing leadership--and singing board members--number among the other challenges faced by the company. As if that weren''t enough, the MOA has not always been taken as seriously as it would like by the local music community.
However, according to Sid Cato, general manager of the MOA for the past three years, things are looking up. With increased funding from both private and corporate sources and a supportive and hardworking board, Cato sees this weekend''s production as a turning point, for the company.
Cato, well-known in the local theater community, has 30 years of experience as an director, actor and theater singer. He admits to being once intimidated by opera, but since his first venture with the MOA in 1992 when he did stage direction for Rossini''s L''Italiana in Algeri, he has come to see the differences between the two performance arts as a matter of emphasis.
"It''s all storytelling," he says. "Opera is storytelling on a grander scale with the focus on the music. The story comes through the music as opposed to another form [of performance] where the story would come through in another way."
The story of La Traviata, in which Violetta, the beautiful French courtesan whose love for the sincere and poetic Alfredo is thwarted by the disapproval of his family, is one which Cato feels people can relate to. "It''s not about kings and queens or gods and goddesses," he says. "It''s about people making emotional connections with each other."
In this production, with stage direction by Cato and musical direction by Stephen Tosh, audiences familiar with the company will see a more refined and professional version of opera than what has been presented in the past. Gone will be the electronic synthesizer once used to fill in for missing instruments. Conductor Robert Place will lead a 22-piece orchestra and the Monterey Peninsula Choral Society will provide the voices for the chorus.
And, unlike other past productions, this opera will be sung not in English, but in Italian with supertitles. Cato is extremely pleased with the quality of the singers who will be appearing in major roles: soprano Nancy Williams; tenor James Crowley, a Metropolitan Opera national finalist; and basso James Splond. Cato''s highest priority for the company is, he says, "to refocus attention on the most important elements of opera--the singing, the music."
Cato''s five-year goal for the company is to present three major productions a year with full orchestra, pairing traditional opera with Broadway musicals. Candide and Madame Butterfly are the offerings for next year and eventually he plans to do the Rent and La Boheme in repertory. He understands that his choices will not please everyone; "To my mind, Candide is Bernstein''s greatest musical score, but it''s still Bernstein, not Puccini or Wagner, and will not be acceptable to some opera purists."
Developing and educating an audience takes time, he continues. "If someone sees and likes Candide they''ll be more open to coming to something which they are not as familiar with; they might take a chance and try Madame Butterfly. It all takes time, and it''s a combination of business and artistic decisions."
La Traviata opens Nov. 5 at the Golden Bough.