If there is such a thing as a biography about a fictional character, Laurent Naouri could certainly write one about Giorgio Germont. In a recent interview, the French baritone spoke with a biographer's clarity about the conflicted father he will portray in his house debut in the Dallas Opera's production of La Traviata that opens Friday at the Winspear Opera House.
He also knows all about the ill-fated Violetta, the "fallen woman" of the title, because he is married to her.
Well, not to her, but to Natalie Dessay, who will be singing the role at the Metropolitan Opera, also in a house debut, this weekend. It is an opera that they have often sung together.
"I have sung this role before, in Santa Fe and also in Tokyo," Maouri says, "but before my wife, Natalie Dessay, was the Violetta. It is odd that we will be singing same opera at the same moment, except this time she will be in New York and I will be in Dallas."
La Traviata is based on a true story, sort of. Alfredo, a rich man from the country, visits Paris and falls in love with a famous courtesan, right before his sister's wedding. So Alfredo's father, Giorgio, approaches Violetta privately and reminds her that this relationship is impossible, as it would cause a scandal and prevent his daughter's marriage. Heartbroken, Violetta agrees to leave Alfredo. They then fight at a party and she withdraws from public view. At the end, Alfredo (chastised father in tow), arrives just in time for her to die in a most sopranoish manner.
Naouri is a father himself, so he knows all too well the conflict between father and son about what is right and wrong.
"I have a boy who is 16 and a girl who is 14," he says. "In a way, I understand that Germont's act two aria is a father lecturing his son. There is a measure of guilt in what he is saying about hurting your poor old father. Even the music, glorious as it is, repeats itself. While I am a father, I was also once a son, and I know that Alfredo is thinking 'oh no, here he goes again.' We all know that when we lecture our children that this is what they think."
Naouri thinks that the scene at Flora's party is critical to the role.
"When he enters, he is faced with a more complicated situation than he expected," he says. "It is time for him to return, but he can't leave Alfredo here. Violetta has fainted in a chair and he sees son being challenged to a duel by royalty. He empathizes with his son because his circumstances have changed so dramatically and in a matter of hours. He has been taken from heaven to bottom of hell. It is the misbehaving of a very young person."
And after the curtain falls?
"Things haven't changed because of Violetta's death," Laurent says. "No doubt that it makes him sad. He had become fond of her in their brief interactions. But the reality is, given the time and place, Germont would do the same thing. Violetta is someone who sells sex and that is fundamental to the issue."
However, as much as he has thought about the role, he leaves himself open to whatever concept the director will bring to the production.
"Sometimes I agree, like in this case with Bliss Hebert, and other times I think 'well, that is different, but I can make it work.' That is just the way it goes in the theater."
Naouri speaks highly of the venue where he'll perform, the Winspear Opera House.
"I did not expect that and I remember the first time I saw it. I arrived totally jet lagged, but the sight of it woke me up and I thought 'that it is one of the most beautiful opera houses I have ever seen'."
As far as acoustics go, he adds it's a "…bit like singing in my bathroom. The size is perfect, big enough to accommodate your voice but you still feel related to the public."
When Traviata closes, he flies to Barcelona, Spain, to sing the role of Golaud in a production of Debussy's Pelléas and Mélisande. "It is a wonderful opera, but it is hard to get people to go see it. But once they are there, they love it."
Even though Naouri and his wife are singing the same opera in different cities on the same weekend, he will be able to see her performance in the Live at the Met HD broadcast. It will play in the local movie theaters on Saturday, April 14 at 11:55 a.m. He will be present at a special screening of the broadcast for the students at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and will talk to the students beforehand about the opera as well as take questions.
You can see it too. Click here for a list of local movie theaters showing it.