LA Opera’s La Traviata

Kelli Nakagama in front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles before La Traviata.
In front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion before La Traviata.

There is always a little bit of pressure, of nervousness, when sharing one of your greatest passions with someone else for the first time.  You’ve no doubt talked up its grandeur in order to convince them to join you; you’ve likely confessed the way it moves you in ways nothing else can.

And so, here is this newbie at your side with high expectations, and suddenly you worry: what if something goes wrong and they completely hate it?

A few weeks ago I convinced my aunt and uncle to join me for their first opera.  Luckily it wasn’t just any opera, but LA Opera’s La Traviata at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles.  And if that wasn’t enough, it was starring the legendary Placido Domingo.

Kelli Nakagama in front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles before La Traviata.
In front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion before La Traviata.

In the days leading up to the performance I had given them tips for seeing the opera and given them the synopsis.  But in the hours before the opera, I got the pre-performance jitters.  What if they hated it?

We arrived at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion early enough for a glass of wine on the plaza and for people-watching, an essential part of the opera experience in my opinion.  An R&B trio sang on the plaza, friends and couples of all ages enjoyed wine and food, and we watched all of this as the southern California sun slowly set in the evening.  So far, so good.

The stairway in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
The stairway in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

We entered the opera house in time to catch the last few minutes of the pre-opera talk, this time led by LA Opera’s conductor James Conlon and art director Marta Domingo, who explained that setting La Traviata in the 1920s art deco period just “made sense.”  And truly, with an era obsessed with extravagance, it does.

As we took our seats, I was both nervous and excited.  But as soon as the music started and, moments later, when Nino Machaidze released her first burst of passion from her voice as Violetta, all was well with the world.  The power in her voice and the graceful beauty in its sound was stunning.

The chandeliers in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
The chandeliers in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Together with tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, who played her lover Alfredo, their voices created a perfect harmony.  And later, in the second act, when Placido Domingo arrived on stage and demanded everyone’s attention with his commanding presence, it was incredible.  His capacity and tone paired well with Violetta but, at times, drowned out tenor Alfredo, although it’s hard to keep up with someone with 3600 performances under his belt.

After the last curtain fell, I was on a high from such an outstanding performance of one of my favorite operas.  I turned to my aunt and uncle, anxious for their reaction.  My uncle said it wasn’t bad.  My aunt said she was surprised how much she enjoyed it.  At first I didn’t know if that was good or bad, until she immediately asked, “what’s playing next in Salt Lake City?”

I smiled.  She got it, she understood my passion.  And I thought to myself, success!

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