"La Traviata" Gets a Mental Health Makeover in Ann Arbor, MI

NNDC & The Arbor Opera Theater Present:
La Traviata
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
Ann Arbor, MI
June 11-14, 2015

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ANN ARBOR, MI: Arbor Opera Theater(AOT) has partnered with the National Network of Depression Centers (NNDC) to create a new adaptation of the opera “La Traviata” as a platform to address the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.  The new production will premiere at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI, June 11-14, 2015. Artistic Director Shawn McDonald came up with the idea for the concept following the suicide of actor Robin Williams. He then connected with Dr. John Greden, founding chair of the NNDC and executive director of University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center, at an NNDC fundraising event.

“La Traviata is basically a story about stigma,” says AOT’s artistic director Shawn McDonald, “and I knew that I wanted to bring that to the forefront of this production. I spoke with people about what they perceived to be a 21st century stigma, and mental illness kept coming up, so I took it as a sign.”

But first McDonald had to figure out how to update the 163 year old story.

“I knew that to really make an impact that I would have to do more than update the sets and costumes.  I also knew that we would attract people who hadn’t seen an opera before.  So, I knew that it would have to be in English and an adaptation rather than a direct translation.  The essence of the story is the same, but we’ve crafted a new English text to Verdi’s music that makes the entire production cohesive, and hopefully compelling.”

The mental health community is enthusiastic about the project, with several other NNDC affiliated cities talking about bringing the production to their communities. Dr. John Greden is especially excited to be a part of this partnership effort. “Stigma has walked hand-in-hand with various medical illnesses for centuries. Its destructiveness is fueled by silence and ignorance.  The National Network of Depression Centers (NNDC) is honored to partner with Arbor Opera Theater (AOT) in this unique adaption of La Traviata to tackle the stigma of mental illness.”

In addition to the performances, there will be community outreach events surrounding the production, including an anti-stigma event at Arbor Brewery Company’s Corner Brewery located in Ypsilanti, a lecture and a talk-back event at the U-M Depression Center with members of the cast and mental health clinicians where audience members can learn how they can actively become part of the solution.

“My intention is to leverage this most magical art form as a catalyst for dialogue and social change.  I hope I’m not flattering myself too much when I say I think Verdi would be pleased.”

Watch our interviews with Ann Arbor Community Television about the La Traviata partnership:

Access Ann Arbor with Dr. John Greden, Founding Chair of the NNDC and Victoria Bigelow, President of the AOT Board

Soapbox with Shawn McDonald, Artistic Director for AOT and University of Michigan Alum
(Fast Forward to Second Segment)