La Traviata is the quintessential opera. It has scandalous liaisons, star-crossed lovers and a heroine slowly wasting away of consumption only to die in her lover’s arms, all set against the lavish backdrop of 1850’s Paris. It’s a beautiful piece of theatre about loss and death, and the Scottish Opera has done it justice brilliantly.
This production is, in the words of the woman who sat next to me, ‘sumptuous’. Everything from the stunning costumes to the beautifully detailed set pieces adds to the illusion of glamour. The audience is so easily drawn into this world of ‘too-much-ness’, for lack of a better word. For example, in the scene where Alfredo, the young hero, confesses his love for Violetta, the tragic heroine, a similar scene of seduction is played out wordlessly behind the semitransparent back wall of the parlour they’re in.
The audience member’s attention is torn between the lovers on centre stage, the English translation for the words that they’re singing, and the red dress whirling on stage right, just barely able to be seen. It’s such a small detail, and yet it gives the audience a taste of the overwhelmingly lavish world in which the characters live. And yet, the production brilliantly frames this lavish world with morbid reminders. The show opens with a sorrowful Alfredo walking amidst falling leaves— another subtle set detail— to Violetta’s tomb.
Likewise, the stage itself is carved with her epitaph. While the chorus and dancers cavort and Alfredo croons love songs, the spectre of death underpins it all, culminating in the play’s final moments as Violetta falls back, dead from tuberculosis, into Alfredo’s arms and the curtain drops.
And while the set and the staging build the mood, it is the vocalists and musicians who ultimately capture the depth of emotion necessary to really make the show come alive. As might be expected from any live performance, the music wasn’t wholly flawless. And yet it is unnecessary to dwell on these because the vocalists consistently and gracefully conveyed the depth of emotion necessary to make the words they sang feel real.
Opera is a performed media with a large element of artifice – very few people express themselves through highly stylised Italian song – and so has a tendency to come across as somewhat artificial to a listener or viewer. However, the music of this production felt totally organic. The staging created a world where this music belonged, and the performance elevated the music to something profoundly relatable, even if its language could not be totally understood.
All in all, this was a lavish performance which perfectly captured the debauchery and
decadence of the period, but which was likewise profoundly emotionally resonant. The music, costumes, and set were beautiful. And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t crying at the end.
Run Ended 25th November
Photo Credit: Jane Hobson