Jennifer Carter on La traviata: "Violetta is an everywoman."

Jennifer Carter on La traviata: "Violetta is an everywoman."

Jenna Simeonov
Canadian soprano Jennifer Carter will appear with Oshawa Opera this month, singing Violetta in Verdi’s beloved La traviata. It’s a role that demands a lot and gives back even more, and I asked Jennifer a few questions about singing one of opera’s most famous ladies.

1. Who is Violetta?

I see Violetta as a woman who will do whatever it takes to to survive. She’s been forced to grow up quickly as a courtesan, but she has managed to create a name and place for herself in Parisian society, sacrificing her own dreams and happiness for financial security. Her dreams of true love are reignited when she meets Alfredo, and she decides to give up financial stability to follow her heart. I think most people have a dream from our youth buried within us, that we chose not to pursue for pragmatic reasons. For me, Violetta is an everywoman in that sense.

2. How common or universal is the story of La traviata?

As I stated above with the character of Violetta, I feel the story is one everyone feels a connection with. For example, we spend a great deal of time in superficial encounters. Exchanges of “how are you?” and “fine, thanks” are often done by rote. We self-censor on social media, and only share statuses and ‘selfies’ that paint us in a positive light. But I think, deep down, we are all striving to find those people in our lives with whom we can move past the superficial and be completely genuine. Violetta leaves the business of satisfying others when Alfredo’s genuine concern for her opens her up to a sincere relationship. Later, his father speaks to her plainly and truthfully about their family, and she leaves so that Alfredo doesn’t lose his family connections. I think these powerful relationships and brutally honest, emotionally raw scenes are the strength of the opera.

3. What does Verdi have to say about women with La traviata, and the character of Violetta?

The way Verdi has written the character of Violetta points to a more modern view of women than we would expect for his time. She is a strong, independent woman in a society where women are normally chained to men, even though her freedom hangs on the satisfaction of men, so it is always within the context of a man’s world. By giving up moral respectability to become a courtesan, she has gained freedom, financial security, and the ability to make her own decisions. At the same time this level of personal freedom carries the caveat of being categorized in a class from which there is no escape. Perhaps a small price to pay for a level of privilege that wouldn’t be afforded her any other way.

4. What’s it like to sing such an iconic role?

For an artist, sometimes it can be intimidating to sing the iconic roles. With Violetta, I feel a certain sense of freedom in that there is not a right or wrong way to be Violetta. Many, many sopranos have made her their own. I have found my own personal connection to the text and music provided by Piave and Verdi. It is my job to make the audience feel that connection too. That connection will help my Violetta move the audience, in the context of such a great story.

5. Why is La traviata a good choice for Oshawa Opera?

Oshawa has made some big changes in the past few years. It’s becoming a university city, and the arts & culture sector is growing there. Oshawa Opera is a wonderful part of that growth.

La traviata is one of the most beloved operas. The characters are accessible, the music is powerful, and like most operas, the story has deep emotional resonance. That makes it a great choice if you haven’t tried opera before, and also a favourite of many people who already love opera.



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