Arts and Entertainment

Kitsap Opera stages centuries-old 'Il Travatore'

Verdi’s operas endure generations without changing much, though the world has.

What happens when a society rips itself apart at the seams?

Beneath boisterous arias and intricate melodies, through a filter of antiquity, melodrama and Latin-speak, that still-relevant question is at the root of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1850’s-era masterpiece “Il Travatore.”

Condemnations to death.

Burnings at the stake.

A tortured love story, and a bloody battle between classes for the hand of the fair maiden. A royal son’s true identity revealed on his death bed.

More than a century and a half later, Kitsap Opera gets at the dilemma of that medieval society’s fiery decline, staging a production of Verdi’s classic June 5 and 7 at the Admiral Theatre. Times have changed, but the opera — a time-tested standard of modern operatic repertoire — hasn’t, much.

“It’s a very bold opera,” Kitsap Opera artistic director Leone Cottrell-Adkins said.

Bold in both the artistic and dramatic essence, she notes, but also in Verdi’s composition and creative, groundbreaking style all those years ago. He introduced a “new realism” to the opera theater at that time, Cottrell-Adkins said, both in his shocking subject matter and musical structure.

“He always took subjects that sort of startled people, even at the time he was writing them, around 1850,” she, one of the area’s foremost opera buffs, went on. “But he also got away from so much recitative — going on and on with the story — and he brought it in, to the more central part of the music itself.”

By tailoring the narrative to the music, rather than the other way around, Verdi ushered in a new, more condensed form of opera. Operas written before his time tended to drag on through repetition and extended narratives told in the part-singing, part-speaking style of recitative.

“They just overdid things because that was the style of the day,” Cottrell Adkins surmised of operas preceding Verdi’s new realism. Now, 150 years later, in an even newer age of realism, even the condensed operas don’t seem quite condensed enough for the modern audience.

“People just don’t have the time to sit there all night,” Cottrell-Adkins said. “It isn’t like a hundred years ago when they had nothing else much to do, and they could sit there all night. Today, we don’t, and we find that people just will not sit through repetitions ... they want to get on with life.”

That decreasing audience attention span is one of the leading factors causing repetition and recitatives not imperative to the story line to be cut out in modern productions of the old operas. But even if modern audiences no longer have a vast amount of time or attention for the full operas, the stories are still worth telling.

“Most of these operas have tremendous drama to them,” Cottrell-Adkins said, “particularly the Verdi operas. There’s a lot of imagination in these things. And you have to use imagination also to present the opera so they excite people.”

Similarly, opera-goers will be required to use a bit of their own imagination in order to fully engage.

For example, imagine: a gypsy, convicted of witchery, burning at the stake, crying out from the flames for her daughter to avenger her. Hearing her mother’s cries, the daughter kidnaps the executioner’s brother, seamingly throwing the boy into the fire.

All those things happen off stage in “Il Travatore;” that’s the back story, which sets the stage, years later, for the court troubadour Manrico (son of the gypsy’s daughter) and Count Di Luna (the gypsy’s executioner) to turn their world upside down and inside out for the love of a woman.

Kitsap Opera presents Verdi's "Il Travatore" at 8 p.m. June 5 and 3 p.m. June 7 at the Admiral Theatre, 515 Pacific Ave. in Bremerton. Tickets are $30-$18, call the Admiral box office at (360) 373-6743. Info: www.kitsapopera.org, www.admiraltheatre.org.

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