Giuseppe Verdi's classic opera "La Traviata," about a doomed love affair between a courtesan and a playboy, moves from early 18th century Paris to 1980s San Francisco in Townsend Opera's Feb. 1-3 production at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
Instead of moving to the French countryside, the couple relocates to Santa Cruz where they can surf. Rather than dying of tuberculosis, the courtesan Violetta succumbs to AIDS.
There will be a photography and art exhibit in the lobby documenting the early days of AIDS in San Francisco, along with informational displays about AIDS today.
"Townsend Opera is making a statement," said Dylan Thomas, the LA-based production manager. "There's a growing movement in opera to make operas accessible to a modern audience."
The show still will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. The cast of 50 features professional singers in the lead roles and vocal students from California State University, Stanislaus, playing the smaller parts. A professional orchestra will provide accompaniment.
The costumes will include a lot of polyester and denim. There will be four mirror balls on stage in a nod to the popularity of disco. One scene will show a view of the San Francisco skyline from a penthouse apartment.
One of Verdi's most popular operas, "La Traviata" is based on Alexander Dumas' novel "The Lady with the Camellias" and debuted in 1853 in Venice. "La Traviata" means "The Fallen Woman."
Modesto soprano Liisa Davila, who stars as Violetta, said she is excited to have her first opportunity to play the iconic role.
"The character is so rich," she said. "She goes through the spectrum of experiences, from being a party girl to experiencing loss and despair."
It's moving to watch Violetta fall in love for the first time with the playboy Alfredo and then give him up because of her love for him, Davila said.
Santa Barbara tenor Mathew Edwardsen, who plays Alfredo, said he likes the updated staging. This is his fourth or fifth time playing the part, but his first that isn't in the traditional setting. "It makes it more interesting, having done it several times," he said.
Edwardsen said people should come to the Gallo Center production if only because of its greatest hits score, including the famous drinking song ("Brindisi") and Violetta's aria "Sempre libera" (Always Free).
"Between the amazing music and the story, (audience members) are going to be moved," he said. "We're not doing our job unless we make them shed a few tears."
WHAT: Townsend Opera's "La Traviata"
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1 and 2 p.m. Feb. 3
WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
CALL: (209) 338-2100
ONLINE: www.galloarts.orgVerdi classic gets an 1980s twist as Townsend Opera presents 'La Traviata'