A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Дама с камелиями (The Lady of the Camelias)

This is one of the best directed performances I have ever seen. It is a new interpretation of Giuseppe Verdi’s popular opera La Traviatta, which was adapted from Alexandre Dumas’ novel La Dame aux Camélias. You are very familiar with this opera, even if you think you’ve never heard of it. There are scores of representations of this opera (The film Moulin Rouge, for example, is based on La Dame aux Camélias), and the arias are played so often, everyone would recognize them. So what did the Opera and Ballet Theater of Dnepropetrovsk do that made such an impression on me?

The curtain opened on a dozen chandeliers, resting lifelessly on the floor, and two women in red, one obviously a ballerina, the other clearly not, standing amongst them. They moved together, from ornament to ornament, touching it and watching it light in response and rise up to hang overhead and light the scene. These chandeliers would shift and change according to the setting, finally falling in the end as the heroine who lit them met her end.

One of the women began to sing as both women stepped downstaget in synchronized motion. The chorus entered behind them, dressed in tuxedos and black dresses, with white gloves on their hands and masks on their faces. They were the undetermined throng, the madding crowd, who would witness the events that were to unfold in this woman’s life. As the preparatory abstractions flowed into the opening action, a ball in honor of Violetta, the singing heroine moved all the way downstage left and stood behind a stand, while the ballerina Violetta began to dance from guest to guest, thrilled at the turnout, pleased with her recent recovery from her illness. From stage right entered two distinguished men with the same hair wearing the same tuxedo; one stood behind a similar stand all the way downstage right and sang his overtures to Violetta, while the other one approached her and danced his joy at her health.

Thus proceeded the entire show. The original opera was simplified to feature only the three main characters, and truly, the others were proven superfluous, as the entire story was effectively conveyed without them. The soprano Violetta remained by her downstage left stand, while tenor Alfredo and baritone Giorgio shared the downstage right niche, giving all of the stage to their dancer dopplegangers. What a beautiful way to interpret the story! To hear the emotion in the singers’ voices and watch it interpreted through the dancers’ bodies was a truly moving experience. Without any prior knowledge of the plot or understanding of Italian, one could easily follow the story, so clearly and powerfully was it conveyed. The talent was incredible, the performances all moving. Most impressive, however, was the direction, for choosing such a brilliant interpretation. It never became stale, either, partly because the three-act opera was shortened to two acts, but largely due to innovative uses of scene change. There was a white curtain, separate from the grand red one, that fell during two scene changes, during which time the singers performed in front of it while the dancers changed their wardrobe. These moments of traditional opera, with dialogue voiced instead of danced, were an interesting relief from the intensity of the dancers’ passion and gave the scene an entirely different feel, most appropriate as the scenery and the costumes were undergoing a change. Not only this, but every aspect of the show was thoughtful and deliberate, adding layers upon layers of meaning to the beautiful and empassioned performances.

From the first moment I was enraptured, and lost all sense of time and reality; after the final curtain fell I sat in my seat in a state of shock, unable to process the scene around me, so caught up in the theatrical world was I. Most appropriately, the curtain call was quite possibly the longest and most enthusiastic I have ever seen, the entire audience on its feet for at least five minutes, clapping as one with frequent cries of “Bravo!” in the mix.

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