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Portland Opera puts on Verdi romance with timely tie-in for modern audience; it stages four times Nov. 4-10, starring Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian in the lead role and directed by Elise Sandell

COURTESY: PORTLAND OPERA - With Verdi's 'La Traviata,' the story of a 19th century courtesan and her lover, Portland Opera begins its season early; it wants to appeal to people who like shows in the fall and winter.Portland Opera's season starts early this year, and audiences will surely enjoy "La Traviata," vows stage director Elise Sandell.

"Portlanders love to experience arts when it's raining," says Sandell, a Chicago resident who previously worked on "Faust."

The Portland Opera has been featuring a spring/summer schedule the past two years, but it wanted to please people who wanted a return to some fall/winter productions. So "La Traviata" in November it is.

General Director Christopher Mattaliano calls it the opera's "November Classic," by Guissepe Verdi, one of his favorite composers.

"This magnificent score and story are deeply human, and although it was composed 165 years ago, the situations and characters continue to resonate with audiences today," he says.

"La Traviata," sung in Italian with English translations and staging four times Nov. 4-10, tells the story of Violetta Valery, a brilliant and beautiful Parisian courtesan who falls in love with Alfredo Germont. She's haunted by her reputation and illness, and navigates sexual politics and confronts societal expectations as she braves a broken heart.

"The text and music fit so beautifully together," says Sandell, who now considers it one of her favorite operas, saying it's wonderful "how well the music understands what each character is going through."

COURTESY PHOTO - SANDELLBack in mid-19th century Paris, many people found the story of Valery and Germont scandalous — a courtesan who was kind and making sacrifices for true love — during the time that being a courtesan was hugely frowned upon. The character was based on Marie Duplessis, a famous Parisian courtesan.

"Courtesans were a huge current through society and culture in 19th century Paris," Sandell says. "They influenced everything — fashion, arts, media, newspapers, artists themselves. And they mixed in the highest circles of men and were influential in politics.

"She's a woman with intelligence and heart, who seems to have everything a woman could want — riches, popularity and men to dote on her. She dares to give it all up to live a life of real love with Alfredo, who sees only her. This is a story we love to live over and over again. ... And when we stay true to the characters and music, it never disappoints."

The current tie-in is women empowerment, she adds.

"Back then, to be intelligent as a woman was sexy," she says. "Now you could make the same argument. They're more sexy now because they have more power."

Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian makes her Portland Opera debut as the tour de force heroine, Valery. "She's just a really fierce artist in the best possible way," Sandell says. "I think audiences are not going to be able to get over what she's like." Tenor Jonathan Boyd returns as Alfredo Germont. Other notable singers include Weston Hurt, Damien Geter, Daniel Mobbs and David Warner.

At a recent rehearsal, "I just sat in my seat wowed by our cast," Sandell says. "I'm so impressed with them."

For "La Traviata," the Portland Opera also has made its own costumes.

"A lot of times when (a company) is doing an older production, they'll rent them," she says. "The Portland Opera head of costumes is designing brand new costumes and building them in the opera shop.

"It's the first time anyone is seeing them, and it's going to be a sight to see — bright dresses, beautiful wigs."

Fun facts: The Portland Opera has performed "La Traviata" six times, the first time in 1968 with esteemed soprano Anna Moffo singing the role of Violetta. ... Greta Garbo played the courtesan in the film adaptation, "Camille" in 1936. ... Richard Gere famously took Julia Roberts to see "La Traviata" in the movie "Pretty Woman," and the Verdi work influenced the film, with the parallels being Violetta and Roberts' character, Vivienne.

"La Traviata" stages at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2, 2 p.m. Nov. 4, and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 and 10 at the Keller Auditorium, 222 S.W. Clay St. Tickets: starting at $25, www.portlandopera.org.

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