You don’t always have to be in a big city to find opera. The other day we enjoyed a wonderful performance of Verdi’s La Traviata, the world's most popular opera by the world's most popular opera composer, in the sleepy little town of Three Oaks, Michigan. The hamlet sits amidst corn and bean fields a few miles inland from the Lake Michigan shore in the southwest corner of the state (surprisingly only 90 minutes from downtown Chicago). The production was the latest offering from Harbor Country Opera. [“Harbor Country,” for those who might be wondering, is the somewhat fanciful marketing label that the local Chamber of Commerce cooked up for a string of Lake Michigan shore beach towns in the southwest corner of Michigan, an area that contains but a single actual harbor. Furthermore, Three Oaks is included in this trademarked marketing “region,” despite being seven miles inland. Whatever.]
|McMurray, Caraman, & Steyer (L to R) in HCO's La Traviata|
Harbor Country Opera is a little gem, and its majordomo Bob Swan, an opera singer himself, has been staging productions for quite some time. In recent years we have taken in, for example, a most enjoyable showing of La Boheme and a wonderful concert by Isola Jones, the famed Met star, accompanied by Bill McMurray and John Concepcion. That La Boheme was a full production of the opera in the large auditorium of the high school in New Buffalo, the one town in Harbor Country with an actual harbor. For La Traviata the setting was the small stage at the Acorn Theater, a modest space in a converted factory that once made corset stays from turkey feather quills when whalebone was getting hard to come by. Fortunately, corsets went out of style before turkeys became hard to come by. Swan and company put on a production of the major scenes from the opera, with a cast of essentially the three main characters who do most of the singing in the complete opera. The performers were in full costume, though understandably the set was minimal. A narrator explained the story line between scenes. La traviata means "the fallen woman," and the libretto is based on La Dame aux Camélias – The Lady of the Camellias, a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The camellia flower in bloom is an iconic image for this opera.
At HCO’s “Broadway Blitz” show earlier this summer, Bob Swan introduced the show and mentioned some recent health trouble. The other day he looked stronger, a most welcome sign for fans of Harbor Country Opera. Salut, Mr. Swan.