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A ’20s themed season in 2020: Inland Northwest Opera announces ‘La Traviata,’ ‘Don Pasquale,’ focus on younger people

Inland Northwest Opera will celebrate its 20th anniversary with standard classics including Gaetano Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

Sung in Italian with English supertitles, the opera’s fully staged production of “La Traviata” will be performed twice at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Sept. 25 and 27.

“ ‘Traviata’ is one of the most beloved operas in the repertoire,” general director Dawn Wolski said. “We haven’t done it in a long time – we haven’t done any Verdi in a while – and we’ve been getting a lot of requests for it.”

“I love Verdi because he manages to bring some levity into his tragedies,” Wolski said. “He has this way of writing incredibly lush lines without sacrificing vocal acrobatics.”

“It is hard to cast,” Wolski said. The main character’s vocal part is written in such a way that the role almost calls for three kinds of sopranos. “Finding someone who can sing acts one, two and three incredibly well is always a challenge.”

In Verdi’s original setting of “La Traviata,” we meet Violetta Valery (Sarah Joy Miller), a courtesan living in the Parisian “demimonde.” After a period of illness, Violetta, weakened, returns home to her life of endless celebration.

There, she meets Alfredo Germont (Derrek Stark), a longtime admirer. As they sing together, Violetta falls reluctantly but hopelessly in love. Fearing for the reputation of his family, Alfredo’s father (Troy Cook) seeks to separate the couple.

Inland Northwest Opera’s new production brings our heroine forward a few decades to 1920s Hollywood Prohibition and a world of movie palaces and young starlets.

“There’s always something weird about ‘Traviata’ because no one (in the U.S.) really knows what a courtesan is, why everything is so bad or how she has all this money,” stage director Dan Wallace Miller said. “A lot of Americans confuse Violetta with a prostitute, which she absolutely was not.”

Instead, Miller imagines Violetta as a sort of Jean Harlow, saddled with fame and subjected to the restrictions of a film studio contract. Miller has always been fascinated by the way that 1920s film stars like Harlow and Fatty Arbuckle were managed and essentially not allowed to live their own lives.

This is analogous to the original story of Violetta, “Who is essentially used by society for entertainment and salacious interest but ultimately whose fate is just another bullet point in how we consume that type of public celebrity,” Miller said.

Miller is especially excited to produce the show in a theater like the Fox, “Which was literally built as a palace to celebrate (film) … I think it will resonate really heavily.”

“I’ve seen so much opera in my life that I don’t get gripped by a lot of the more staunchly traditional productions,” Miller said. “So I always take it upon myself as a director to find a way to present a piece that is new and interesting to me having lived with these pieces for so long, but also just as interesting and understandable for someone who’s never seen a show at all.”

The opera will host two season-opening events in Spokane. The season will debut May 1 with “Interlude,” an annual opera luncheon this year featuring former NFL defensive lineman turned opera star Ta’u Pupu’a. The Tongan-born tenor will perform several recognizable favorites yet to be announced.

Coda, the opera’s 21-40 club, also will host its inaugural event. The club seeks to provide a new outlet for young professionals hoping to learn more about opera. The Coda Club Mixer is free and will be on April 16 at Dry Fly, 1003 E. Trent Ave.

Because of the continuing situation with COVID-19, the dates for “Interlude” and the Coda Club Mixer might be postponed.

In an effort to reach out to young people, the company will stage performances of “Carmen and the Bull,” a children’s opera arranged by Elise LaBarge that puts music from Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” to a story loosely based on Munro Leaf’s “Ferdinand the Bull.”

Performances will be May 17 at First Presbyterian Church, Coeur d’Alene, May 21 at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library and May 23 at the Riverfront Park Pavilion.

Inland Northwest Opera’s “Don Pasquale,” the latest addition to its “Opera on the Lake” series, has one performance on July 19.

In this absurd but lighthearted comedy, Don Pasquale (Charles Robert Stephens) is taken for a wild ride by his doctor (Shea Owens), his nephew Ernesto (Isaac Frishman) and Ernesto’s love interest, Norina (Madison Leonard). Through ridiculous intrigue, Norina and Ernesto are finally allowed to marry. Inland Northwest Opera’s semi-staged production will be sung in English with English dialogue.

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