Placido Domingo Reunites With Protege Arturo Chacon-Cruz in L.A. Opera's 'La Traviata'

la traviata Production Still - H 2014
Craig Mathew/LA Opera

la traviata Production Still - H 2014

Domingo reteams with soprano Nino Machaidze and tenor Chacon-Cruz for art deco reimagining of Verdi classic

For tenor Arturo Chacon-Cruz, it all began with La Traviata. He was 21 at the time and had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, but knew it wasn’t opera, which he always found a bore when he watched it on TV. But there he was singing in the chorus in a Mexican production of Verdi’s masterpiece when it hit him. “This opera changed my life because it made me look at the art form in a whole different way,” Chacon-Cruz tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I was able to feel the orchestra and feel the chords, the vibration in my body and it changed my life.”

It was around that time he met Placido Domingo whose annual Operalia Contest launched the singer’s career when he won in 2005. Since then he has traveled the world singing from La Scala to Carnegie Hall such roles as Rodolfo in La boheme, Verdi’s Rigoletto and of course, Alfredo, the melancholy lover of Violetta in La Traviata through September 28 at the L.A. Opera.

“Meeting him alone, I was a basket case. I couldn’t believe I was meeting the king of the tenors,” recalls Chacon-Cruz about his first meeting with the legendary Domingo in which he suggested the younger man try singing as a tenor. Domingo himself made the transition from tenor to baritone in 2007. “I was a little bit at a cross point and I didn’t know what to do and here I have the best singer around that’s telling me do this. Well, of course I’ll listen to him. It was very exciting the way he described what the rewards could be if I successfully go through that transition.”

Transition he has, leaving him prepared to confront head on the technical challenges a difficult role like Alfredo offers. Violeta is a courtesan who tires of her shallow social miasma of shakers and movers, seeking true love in the form of Alfredo, a passionate and sincere young suitor. As a singer, his greatest test comes with the aria and caballeta opening the second act where Alfredo juxtaposes the bliss he shares with Violeta in their country home against the news that she has financed their retreat by selling her horses and carriages. Added to that are the dramatic challenges of the third act where Alfredo accepts a miniature portrait from the dying Violeta. “It’s a very difficult vocal score for a tenor. It sounds easy but it’s not. So if you do it well they say okay, it’s not that hard. And if you do it badly, it shows,” observes Chacon-Cruz. “When you’re singing with great singers your game just gets better. And this production, everybody’s a great singer.”

This is the third time he has shared a stage with Domingo, who sings the role of Alfredo’s father, Giorgio, but the first time he is singing with soprano Nino Machaidze, the scorching-hot chanteuse from Tbilisi who made her L.A. Opera debut in 2009 as Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore, and sang opposite Domingo in last season’s finale, Massenet’s Thais. “It feels like we’ve worked together for a long time. She’s a diva on stage and sweetheart off stage,” he says of his costar. “Everybody has different strengths and her strength is how real her characters are.”

For the current production, director Marta Domingo has updated the action from the mid-19th century to the roaring twenties, with art deco production design, a flapper chorus and a classic 1921 Chrysler sedan. “A guy who loves in the twenties will do the same for the girl he loves in the 1800s or in the future. When it’s real, it’s real,” says Chacon-Cruz, who relishes appearing in the opera for his ninth time. “All the emotions are there. It’s a great thing to have cause the inspiration levels get higher.”