Credit: Dana Sohm

When the Granada comes alive with the production of Verdi’s masterpiece La Traviata on Sunday, June 12, it marks a return to the land of grand opera for Opera Santa Barbara ( It also marks a long-awaited return to an ambitious company mission already in progress.

Since the company’s last “grand opera” project in November 2019, OSB has embarked on resourceful rethinking over how to operate under fire and lockdown. Among its creative workaround achievements were drive-in operas at Ventura Fairgrounds and unique smaller productions at the Lobero. Those included the mariachi opera Cruzar La Cara De La Luna, the transgender one-act As One, a Halloween-timed Puccini/Da Falla double-header, an updated take on Handel’s Semele, and an abridged spin on Wagner’s Das Rheingold.

Driving the company’s admirable initiative-amidst-adversity is Kostis Protopapas, the artistic and general director (and conductor this Sunday). He explained, “the Traviata performance will be a celebration of everything we have accomplished since March 2020. Our company was one of the few performing arts organizations in California that remained active throughout the lockdown, and successfully navigated through the post-reopening ups and downs. Returning to grand, full-length opera with a large orchestra and chorus feels like the final chapter of Around the World in 80 Days, except our journey was about 800 days.”

This production of Verdi’s 1853 adaptation of Alexander Dumas’s novel La Dame aux Camélias features some familiar faces/voices. Soprano Anya Matanovic takes on the lead role, after roles in OSB’s The Crucible and Das Rheingold, alongside tenor Nathan Granner, memorable in OSB’s 2018 La Boheme.

La Traviata is one of the most important works of the repertoire,” Protopapas asserts. “First, it was the first ‘realist’ opera in the history of the genre. Up until then, any opera included a large element of fantasy — ancient myths and gods, historical figures, exotic locales, etc. Then the music is absolutely perfect. It is masterfully designed to give the singers the opportunity to sculpt lifelike characters. It is also remarkable how Verdi creates a new kind of musical drama without substantially departing from the established musical norms.”

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Director Tara Faircloth, previously behind OSB’s 2017 production of Puccini’s La Rondine, has conceived a fresh interpretation of La Traviata. Protopapas explains that the director “envisions the story as a memory play.”

Faircloth said, “anytime you bring a group of artists together to create live opera, there is a bit of magic in the air. Our production features quite traditional, lush costumes, but we have a gorgeous new scenic design by Francois-Pierre Couture and also a small troupe of dancers from the State Street Ballet. The visual world is a gorgeous blend of delicate, feminine symbology and dancer-driven transitions which help create a dreamlike state of memory and emotion.”

OSB, founded in 1994, has worked through many phases and changes, and has survived and, in its way, thrived during a potential downtime. In one sense, the extreme challenges to performing arts in the past two years instilled a call to rise to the occasion.

“There are no crises in art, only opportunities, painful as those sometimes may be,” said Protopapas. “John F. Kennedy said, ‘the artist becomes the last champion on the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state.’ Society has never been more intrusive, and the state never more officious than during the pandemic and the years leading up to it. In that sense, the artist’s duty has never been more urgent.

“Additionally, the disruption of the pandemic was also a reset button in the arts. We were forced to think creatively and economically and forget ‘business as usual.’ As a result, we have become more efficient and more focused on the essentials of the art: the music, the artists, and the storytelling.”

OSB’s future looks bright — and grand — again. “What our company does is produce vibrant music theater that both draws on the past of the operatic tradition and envisions its future,” said Protopasas. “Artistically, we plan to be producing classic and contemporary works with equal passion and audacity for a long time.”

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