The Canadian Opera Company opens its 2015/2016 season with a work of dazzling beauty, Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. This operatic classic returns to the COC stage in a lush new production for 11 performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on October 8, 13, 16, 17, 21, 24, 29, 30, November 1, 4, 6, 2015.
La Traviata is one of opera’s greatest romances but it scandalized Venetians at its 1853 premiere with its unsentimental depiction of a Parisian courtesan in love. A year later, La Traviata was restaged and triumphed, quickly growing in popularity. It remains one of the most performed operas in the world.
Renowned New York theatre director Arin Arbus, hailed by the New York Times in 2009 as “the most gifted new director to emerge,” sets Verdi’s story of passion and sacrifice in glittering 1850s Paris, evoking the social realities, rhythms and debauchery of a rapidly changing world. Co-produced with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Houston Grand Opera, this La Traviata delighted audiences at its Chicago premiere in 2013 with a look and feel that is “both hyper-traditional and, in moments, saucily modern” (bachtrack.com).
Arbus’s creation balances the intimacy of Verdi’s delicate love story with the playfulness and decadence of the 19th-century Parisian nightlife that inspired the opera that Verdi called “a subject of the times.” The lavish costumes are by noted visual artist and designer Cait O’Connor, set against the uncluttered backdrop of set designer Riccardo Hernandez with atmospheric lighting by Marcus Doshi and choreography by Austin McCormick. Projection designs are by Christopher Ash.
Irresistible melodies and elegant harmonies make the score of La Traviata one of Verdi’s most emotional operas. Leading the COC Orchestra and Chorus through this musical masterpiece is internationally renowned Italian conductor Marco Guidarini, last with the COC for 2012’s Il Trovatore.
La Traviata’s doomed courtesan, Violetta, has emerged over time as one of the most compelling and glamorous heroines in all of opera. Russian Ekaterina Siurina, one of the leading singers of her generation and as celebrated for her sparkling soprano as her charming stage presence, makes her Canadian and role debut in a part known for its demanding vocal pyrotechnics and complex character arc. She shares this beloved role with equally lauded
Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury, one of today’s leading Violettas, last heard at the COC in La Bohème in 2013.
In the role of Violetta’s nobleman lover, Alfredo, is one of the finest lyric tenors of his generation, internationally acclaimed American Charles Castronovo in his Canadian debut. He shares the role with “the powerful and nimble voice” (Opera News) of COC Ensemble Studio tenor Andrew Haji. As Germont, Alfredo’s disapproving father, is “incomparable” American baritone Quinn Kelsey, as proclaimed by The Guardian. Kelsey mesmerized COC audiences and critics in 2014’s Don Quichotte and 2011’s Rigoletto, and now brings his “strong, musical voice… [to make] a formidable Germont” (New York Times). Canadian baritone James Westman, last with the COC in 2012’s Die Fledermaus, brings his “dramatic range and superb vocal control… [and] keen sense of theatric expression” (Opera News) to the role of Germont for three performances. Westman also sings Baron Douphol, Alfredo’s rival, for the other eight shows in La Traviata’s scheduled run.
South African-Canadian mezzo-soprano and Ensemble Studio alumna Lauren Segal, “alluring, sexy, her voice rich in nuance” (Opera Magazine), returns to the COC as Violetta’s friend, Flora. Canadian bass-baritone Thomas Goerz sings Baron Douphol for three performances and Ensemble Studio alumni bass Robert Gleadow and bass-baritone Neil Craighead share the role of Dr. Grenvil. Rounding out the cast are current members of the company’s Ensemble Studio: bass-baritone Iain MacNeil is the Marquis d’Obigny; tenor Charles Sy is Alfredo’s friend, Gastone; soprano Aviva Fortunata is Violetta’s maid, Annina; and tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure is Violetta’s servant, Giuseppe. Baritone Jan Vaculik is a Messenger.
La Traviata is based on the French play La dame aux Camélias (1852) by Alexandre Dumas fils, which the author adapted for the stage from his own best-selling novel of the same name. Dumas had fallen in love with a famous Parisian courtesan named Marie Duplessis, who served as the model for the tragic heroine of Dumas’ novel and subsequently Verdi’s opera.
Dumas’ play attracted Verdi’s attention because it offered a new and invigorating Realism. In this story, morality did not necessarily triumph; the scale was intimate and personal by focusing on people’s private lives; and the characters and situations were recognizably contemporary, speaking to all manner of issues that were relevant to, and vigorously debated by, the public in mid-1800s Europe. Verdi originally set his opera in contemporary times, something rarely done, but he ran afoul of censors and theatre managers who demanded that the time period of La Traviata be pushed into the distant past to dilute the work’s shocking social critique.
La Traviata is sung in Italian with English SURTITLESTM, and was last performed by the COC in 2007.
When I was a teen I was dumbfounded as to why Julia Roberts cried whilst watching ‘La Traviata’ in “Pretty Woman”. How was I to know what that kind of love felt like? I didn’t know heartache yet. I wanted to experience an opera that conveyed so much emotion that it could move someone to tears. This past weekend, I was ready to immerse myself in the rawness of the Canadian Opera Company’s ‘La Traviata’ and finally taste some of that painful joy.
As we settled in to watch ‘La Traviata’ at the Four Seasons Centre of Performing Arts we were introduced to its intensity right away through the power of voice, rich staging, decadent costuming and thunderous talent.
From the tilted stage to a veiled lace curtain opening we were given a view into Violetta’s isolated life. The sorrow, loneliness and silence immediately made the voyeuristic audience wince. Once the veiled lace curtain lifted, the stage revealed was ornate, filled with exuberant crown moulded walls within a gorgeous home. Everything seemed a little too perfect.
The beauty was tangible from a boisterous party scene, party goers, revellers and colours so vibrant they were practically pop up, starkly contrasted the fretted emotions emanating from Violetta and Alfredo.
Verdi’s world could be outfitted into our 2015 reality with ease. Even with so much light and joviality, the darkness and sadness began to beat like a faint heart beat buried deep within the floor boards of Violetta and Alfredo’s world.
Violetta in her ‘Louboutin like’ dress and red petticoats distracted us for moments as ominous shadows were cast on the lovingly maintained walls of her dwelling. The whispers and cries slowly unfolded in deep yearning as sung out by Violetta and Alfredo of a love affair in deep crisis.
Arin Arbus says, ‘One must remember La Traviata scandalized the censors when it was written. Why? Because Verdi chose to write about the hypocrisies of the society in which he was living. As much as the opera is a deeply drawn psychological portrait of a woman struggling to love and survive, it’s a social critique. The story depicts a woman destroyed by a brutal and petty world. The love which Violetta and Alfredo create together is a rebellion against that world.
Violetta’s life is a solitary and empty one, despite the crowds, the pleasures and the parties. She has no friends. No family. This kind of life has made her sick—physically and psychically.’
‘Love me Alfredo. Love me as much as I have loved you. Farewell, ’ sings Violetta in the most beautifully painful scene which will leave you feeling choked and grasping at your throat in discomfort. We’ve all thought those words and perhaps never had the guts to say it to someone we loved and lost.
With some life experience and broken romantic relationships under my belt, taking in ‘La Traviata’ spoke to my life’s wisdom. It reinforced periods of time in my life that I wish I could saved, taken care of myself better, walked through pain with a greater sense of control and created a wall of security to keep my mind, body and wellbeing intact whilst in grief. Easier said than done in reflection.
We all know a Violetta and an Alfredo. We have all been a Violetta and an Alfredo. ‘La Traviata’ as performed by the Canadian Opera Company is a polished and an epic portrait of love, loss, society’s rigid views and familial obligations. The Canadian Opera Company has done it again and when you are ready, they will shake up your core.