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Director Tim Ocel’s concept for “La Traviata” is that it takes place in Alfredo’s memory. “The Act 1 prelude and the beginning of Act 3 begin with the very same phrases,” he noted. “There’s something absolutely ethereal about those phrases.” That gave him the idea of beginning with the aristocrat Alfredo visiting Violetta’s tomb, and remembering their time together.

Although the story takes place in the vanished world of the 19th century, Verdi’s opera still speaks to us in basic human terms, Ocel said. The courtesan Violetta is not allowed to redeem herself, and is pressured by Alfredo’s father to walk away. Their meeting, he said, “is the juiciest nut in the opera, a major turning point. Her reputation as a courtesan will always be part of the thinking of society, and Violetta herself buys into it.”

Ocel said he finds it fascinating to perform “Traviata” in the nave of Union Avenue Christian Church, which doubles as a theater. “This opera has to do with morality. It’s ultimately about mercy. It’s complex, because every human being is complex.”

— By Sarah Bryan Miller