Q&A: Arthur Fagen discusses The Atlanta Opera’s La Traviata

Mark Gresham | 24 APR 2019

A new production of La traviata, one of Giuseppe Verdi’s greatest operas and one of the most popular of all time, is being presented by The Atlanta Opera beginning this Saturday, April 27, with a total of four performances through May 5 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

One of the most popular operas of all time, Verdi’s sweeping score is striking for its seamless beauty and its wealth of memorable tunes.

With a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on La Dame aux Camélias, a novel by Alexander Dumas that was popular in Verdi’s lifetime, La traviata tells the story of Violetta Valéryes, a wealthy socialite and courtesan who gives up everything for the experience of true love with Alfredo Germont, a young nobleman. Because of Violetta’s reputation as a free-spirited courtesan, Alfredo’s father forces them apart, with disastrous consequences for all.


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Czech-born soprano Zuzana Markova sings the lead role of Violetta, with tenor Mario Chang as Alfredo and Argentine baritone Fabian Veloz as his father, Giorgio Germont. Stage direction is by Francesca Zambello.

Arthur Fagen, music director of the Atlanta Opera since 2010 and professor of orchestral conducting at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music since 2008, will conduct this final production of the 2018-19 season. This past week, EarRelevant sat down with Fagen for a brief discussion about these upcoming performances of La traviata.

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EarRelevant: Verdi’s La traviata is one of the great standards of operatic repertoire, and this is a new production by The Atlanta Opera. Tell us what makes this one especially exciting?

Arthur Fagen: Every production of La traviata depends upon the quality of the cast, and the quality of this cast is very, very high, both vocally and dramatically. Also performers who are really immersed in the traditions of singing and performing Italian opera. I spent years in Italy working with Tito Gobbi and Luigi Ricci and I feel so very, very much at home with this cast. I think we’re going to have a very musically authentic La traviata. It also features a very dynamic, exciting staging by Francesca Zambello.

Arthur Fagen (courtesy of Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University)

Arthur Fagen (courtesy of Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University)

I just want to say one thing about the title, because very few people seem to know what “la traviata” actually means. It’s often translated “the fallen woman” but it actually comes from the Italian “tra” which means “between,” “via” which is a way or a path, plus “ta” [feminine suffix] so it’s about a woman caught between the paths of being a courtesan and having a domestic life.

EarRelevant: You talked about there being a stellar cast, what can you say about the orchestra’s important role in this production?

Fagen: What is really wonderful about the Atlanta Opera Orchestra is that they are a real opera orchestra, in that when we do an opera like this – one that requires tremendous flexibility in terms of following singers bel canto style – they listen to the singers and can adjust to all kinds of rubati very easily. It’s one of the things I really like about this orchestra. Also, they know this piece quite well. They did it in 2013 with Joseph Rescigno. I even did it with them in 2005 at the Atlanta Civic Center.


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EarRelevant: Before that, I believe, The Atlanta Opera also performed it in 1980, 1989 and 1998. It’s such an essential, core pieces of operatic repertoire. Among the number of times you have conducted La traviata, what instances with other companies spring most quickly to mind for you?

Fagen: I’ve conducted it in two different seasons of the Vienna State Opera, at New York City Opera, Israeli Opera, also at the Frankfurt Opera. This piece has been with me for decades, but has always remained fresh for me. Always inspiring. There is such a riveting drama with a perfect synthesis of music and theater. Verdi’s portrayal of human relationships and certain characters, musically and dramatically – it’s all so believable. And on top of that you’ve got truly great music, with all the famous tunes that have made La traviata such a hit. ■


🎧 Listen to excerpts from a recording of La traviata on Spotify:

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