James de Blasis admires the character of Violetta in Verdi's “La Traviata.”
“If you really read about who she was, a real person, Marie Duplessis, you can't help it,” de Blasis said last week at Opera Omaha's downtown offices. “She had an affair with (French author) Alexandre Dumas (the younger). Her last affair was with the composer Franz Liszt.”
De Blasis, who has been directing the greats of the opera world for five decades now, is helming “La Traviata,” which opens a new Opera Omaha season Friday night at the Orpheum.
He said Duplessis was the basis for Dumas' book, “The Lady of the Camellias,” which later became the 1936 movie “Camille,” starring Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor. Like Duplessis, Camille and Violetta tragically die of tuberculosis at a very young age.
“She was the envy of all the courtesans,” de Blasis said. “She played piano, spoke several languages, had the richest man, and was more elegant than the other courtesans — and thus despised by them.”
De Blasis is happy to have Inna Dukach in the role of Violetta. He said the key to directing the production is Violetta's two sides: lucidity and delirium. She's the center of everything, he said, and too often the character is glossed over, without dimension.
He's directed “La Traviata” at least 15 times.
“If I don't believe in the piece, I won't do it,” he said. “I like ‘La Traviata.' You have to do an opera four or five times before you really understand it. And it's never the same — always a different cast, set, conductor, point of view.”
For this production he's particularly impressed by Joshua Kohl, who plays Alfredo, the wealthy young lover of Violetta.
“The moments come out of the music,” said de Blasis, who has been living in Omaha for five years while his wife was in failing health. She died a few months ago. Their daughter, Blythe Watkins, is director of artistic administration at Opera Omaha.
In 1975, de Blasis directed Beverly Sills in “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the newly refurbished Orpheum Theater. He is the former general and artistic director of the Cincinnati Opera. His favorite job, he said, is one-on-one coaching of opera artists, particularly helping them develop their characters through the music and text.
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