Corteo. Cirque du Soleil's Corteo is a fine experience — visually gorgeous, musically exhilarating and filled with acts of athleticism that take your breath away. The costumes and sets are lovely and evocative, with the kind of fanciful curlicues you imagine adorning a fairy-tale palace or a miraculous child's birthday cake. Angels hover over the action, their dresses and bodies making elegant shapes in the air and suggesting wondrous other dimensions. But Cirque's magic seems somehow diminished in this production. The story sounds a bit like self-parody: A clown is fantasizing or dreaming his own death, and all the acts represent both a celebration of life and an urging into the unknown. Still, there are many stirring individual moments: three women clad in silky, Victorian-style knickers dancing with jeweled, swinging chandeliers; children leaping joyously on preternaturally springy beds; an upside-down yellow creature crossing the stage on a trapeze; a tiny woman floating over the audience, held up by helium balloons. But the dialogue is banal, and some of the clowning is downright silly. Presented by Cirque du Soleil through August 5, Grand Chapiteau, Pepsi Center grounds, 1-800 678-5440, www.cirquedusoleil.com. Reviewed June 28.
La Traviata. There's a reason this tale about the doomed love between a consumptive courtesan and an aristocrat is one of the world's most frequently performed. It's gorgeous, filled with luscious songs and expressive arias, full of pulsating emotion. But hearing La Traviata at the Central City Opera House is a particular treat: The place is small and well-constructed, so there's no need for amplification and nothing to impede sound. Jennifer Casey Cabot, who sings Violetta, has range, fluidity and an effortless coloratura. She's also a fine actress. Cabot is well supported by Chad Shelton as Alfredo Germont and Grant Youngblood as Germont's father, Giorgio. Director Justin Way emphasizes story and character, while conductor Martin Andre provides eloquent and fluid pacing. Though the tale is ultimately tragic, its movement provides the kind of sensual joy you feel when a particularly rich piece of chocolate dissolves in your mouth — but there's no cloying aftertaste, just one sweet, pure, clean sensation following another. Presented by Central City Opera through August 16, 124 Eureka Street, Central City, 303-292-6700. www.centralcityopera.org. Reviewed July 19.
A Midsummer Night's Dream. The action in A Midsummer Night's Dream is framed by a wedding ceremony between Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and his warrior queen, Hippolyta. We watch a group of working stiffs rehearse a celebratory play for the couple, urged on by the irrepressible Nick Bottom. Four young people disappear into the forest: Hermia and Lysander, who have been forbidden to marry by Hermia's father; Helena, trundling after Lysander, whom she loves; and Demetrius, Hermia's spurned suitor. The forest is ruled by the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, who happen to be feuding. Within this magical, oneiric place, realities dissolve and the lovers are bamboozled by Oberon and his trickster fairy Puck into losing track of their original alliances and switching partners again and again. Meanwhile, Oberon has arranged for Titania to fall in love with Bottom. Not only that, but he's replaced Bottom's head with that of an ass. The interrelated themes are that love is crazy and lovers blind, that we all live in a world of illusion, and that theater itself mirrors this shifting, upside-down world. Director Gavin Cameron-Webb gets all this. His set, a stage within the Mary Rippon stage, is simple, elegant and workable. The actors own the words they speak, and as a result, you hear the lines clearly. Once that happens, any Shakespeare production is halfway home — particularly this one, with its melting poetry. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 18, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado, Boulder, 303-492-0554 www.coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 5.