Standing Ovation for La Traviata

Jan 19, 2015

by Leah Schwarting | Student Life Reporter

When the lights dimmed in Branscomb Auditorium, the soft rustling of skirts and tailcoats filled the air backstage as student and professional performers alike readied themselves for the first act of La Traviata, an opera performed on the evening of Saturday, January 17.

Set in Paris during the Parisian renaissance of the 1920s, the opera tells the story of Violetta Valéry, a shallow courtesan who finally finds love, but is out of time due to declining health.  La Traviata, an inspiration for the movie musical Moulin Rouge!, was one of the first of its kind and has managed to strike a chord with audiences since its debut over a century ago.

Florida Southern College’s Artist in Residence Mark Thomsen directed the opera, as well as starred as Violetta’s love, Alfredo.

“We see from Violetta right away that she’s not well, in the very beginning, so I’m hoping that that touches people,” Thomsen said. “As it moves along with the relationship with Alfredo coming in, we see her return to those feelings she had as a girl, of what true love is all about.”

The annual event serves as a fundraiser for Lakeland’s Imperial Symphony Orchestra. The organization has long partnered with FSC, even moving their offices to the college last year.

Nowhere is that partnership better displayed than during the Night at the Opera, where students, faculty and alumni are cast alongside ISO’s performers. This year, that cast includes sophomore Matthew English in his first solo role delivering Violetta’s letter to Alfredo, bidding him goodbye in an attempt to save his family’s reputation.

“Honestly I never thought I would be ever be around people who have sung all over the world-- have sung for royalty,” English said. “It just amazes me every day that I get to work with these wonderful people.”

English is one of three FSC students who were cast in solo roles. Several others helped fill the ranks of the chorus and populate the lavish parties of Violetta and her friend Flora.

Senior Jeremy Bixson sauntered onstage during Act III as the Marquis, a playboy friend of Violetta and Alfredo. Dancers from Florida Dance Theatre made allusions to his promiscuous behavior, resulting in a quick and sharp reprimand from Flora, also his courtesan.

However, tragedy does not leave the stage for long. Although Josef Samargia, cast in the role of the Doctor, tells Violetta that she will recover, she knows the truth and prepares for the end.

As Violetta lay dying onstage, 2014 FSC alumna Lauren Williams waited offstage for her cue.

After working with the ISO during her time as a student, Williams was hired for this opera to play Annina, Violetta’s dedicated servant.

“Although I remain as that humble maid and servant who’s standing by, I’m also her most intimate friend in a way because I know her condition very well, and you really see that intimacy in the fourth act,” Williams said.

That intimacy carries through to the end, as Annina stands and weeps as her mistress dies in Alfredo’s arms. Although the opera ended in tragedy, there was only triumph as Violetta’s dying song gave way to a standing ovation.