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Verdi's Traviata: The
By Jon Unglaub
The exuberant vitality of Rossini,
the seductive charm of Donizetti, the
pure pathos of Puccini - these fea-
tures have endowed Italian opera
with a musical finesse and an emo-
tional relevance that has challenged
performers and enraptured audiences
for well over a century.
Though each of these composers
was a supreme master of musical
drama, they were humbled in their
own century by the universal genius
of Guiseppe Verdi, whose technical
virtuosity, refined sentiment and
thematic unity epitomize the pinna-
cle of operatic composition. This
brilliance is translated sublimely
into every bar of what may be his
greatest achievement, the tragic and
delicate La Traviata. While Aida and
I Trovatore are clouded in the Ro-
mantic spectacle of grand opera, and
Otello and Falstaff are prejudiced by
literary expectations (despite their
mastery of human expression) La
Traviata transcends Verdi's other
masterpieces through a flawless es-
pousal of Italian lyricism and dra-
matic immediacy that presents the
work on a very personal level. This
opera does not inspire awe but rather
nurtures genuine feelings in the
hearts of those who behold it.
The vehicle for Verdi's supreme
study of musical characterization is
Alexandre Dumas' play La Dame
aux Camelias. The performance cen-
ters on Violetta, a contemporary
Parisian courtesan, whose budding
passions and amorous desires are
shrouded by her hesitant but certain
surrender to tuberculosis. She finds
in a dashing Provengal, Alfredo, the
love that had always been missing
from her frivolous lifestyle. Their
bliss is shattered by Alfredo's father,
Giorgio, who implores Violetta to
spare his family's honor by relieving
Alfredo of their disreputable affair.
Destitute, the ailing Violetta departs
only to be reunited with Alfredo in
her final dying moments.
Verdi, in Traviata, focuses on
realistic characters whose feelings are
directly accessible rather than ob-
scured by ennobling tales or set op-
eratic formulas. Operas in this mode,
though often the paragon of lyric
beauty and sentimentality, are not
musically bound to the dramatic
menu of the opera.
But La Traviata is permeated by
such arias as "Un di felice," where
Alfredo serenades Violetta and con-
fesses his love; "Sempre libera,"
where Violetta defiantly rhapsodizes
on her carefree existence; and
"Impotente," where Giorgio's righ-
teousness is countered by Violetta's
desperate whimpers as she reconciles
to shamefully return to her decadent
and empty life in Paris. These arias,
inextricably linked to the opera's
dramatic progression, use both mu-
sic and action to deliver the same
emotional force. With such pieces,
Verdi forged the path for the great
"verismo" operas of Mascagni and
Puccini which present humble char-
acters animated by jarring and com-
Fortunately, this weekend Ann
Arborites will delight in two per-
formances of the New York City
Opera's production of this pivotal
landmark of the Operatic repertoire.
La Traviata will be sung in Italian
complemented by English superti-
The New York City Opera was
founded in 1944, and has since
highlighted American performers and
composers while brilliantly reviving
both the old war horses and the more
obscure works of renowned com-
posers. Its high artistic standards are
rivaled on this continent only by the
Metropolitan Opera (City Opera's
neighbor at Lincoln Center), the
Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the War
Memorial Opera of San Francisco.
City Opera's extraordinarily wide
repertory is paralleled only by the
Met and it has fostered many
When her husband Carl
was alive, the Proffers
lived off of his teaching
salary from the University. But now,
Ardis is Ellendea's lone source of
income. No longer can she run Ardis
just on affection for Soviet literature
alone; she has been forced to make it
Even with that responsibility
hanging over her, Proffer is arrang-
ing a new deal under which Soviet
publishing companies will reissue
Ardis books in the Soviet Union.
"They don't pay us much..." said
Proffer about the new agreement.
"but we're glad that the books have
gone back to the main source of the
But the future of the joint venture
agreements depends on the success
Gorbachev's policies, said Rydel,
"That is the big if."
No matter what agreement Proffer
can work out with the Soviets, Ardis
will never make her a rich woman.
Although Ardis' commitment to
Russian works takes first priority,
Proffer has been forced to explore
other avenues to support her com-
pany. Ardis purchased Infoscan, a
company which transcribes Soviet
literature, as a way to help pay the
"We're hoping that Infoscan will
generate the cash to support Ardis.
This is a small press that exists
without a subsidy. We make it, but
we don't have an inch left over to
invest in the company."
The real courage of the Proffers,
and now Ellendea alone, has been
their willingness to stay in business.
Friends attribute Ardis' success to
the Proffers devotion to each other.
and to the company.
"When those two met, it was ab-
solute fireworks," said Rydel, who
was with the Proffers when they met
at Indiana University. "They were
soulmates. Those two had a spectac-
ular partnership. It was romance."
Yet Ellendea has been able to
keep the business afloat. Friends of
both say that Ellendea's business
savvy was not as surprising as was
her courage after Carl's death.
"Ellendea has survived and she
has transformed," Rydel said. "At
first she was grief striken, but even
then, Ardis never stopped. Carl, at
the beginning had more experience,
but Ellendea had a real sophistication
about literature. She had to learn,
The basement of Proffer's house at Leslie Park houses Ardis Publisl
Violetta, played by Donna Zapola,falls victim to a tragic love affair in La Traviata.
celebrities, including the late Nor-
man Treigle and Beverly Sills, the
company's current artistic director.
I enjoyed three outstanding pro-
ductions during City Opera's regular
summer season, and the touring
troupe will surely deliver a flawless
La Traviata in full fidelity to the
opera's literary truthfulness, dramatic
sensitivity, and musical perfection.
while he was dying, the business
side. When Carl died, she found re-
serves of strength, and I think the
business is now better organized.
She is more of a business person
than Carl ever was."
Journalist Kaiser praised Proffer
for keeping the business on an even
keel after Carl's death. "A lot of
their friends worried that she
wouldn't be able to do it alone. The
best compliment to Ellendea is that I
am not conscious of any significant
changes in the business."
Money pays the bills, but Proffer
only needs enough cash to keep her
business going, and only enough
fame so that other Russian authors
La Traviata will be at the Power
Center at 8 p.m. Saturday and at 3
p.m. Sunday. For tickets, call the
University Musical Society at 764-
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