The State Opera of South Australia opened its very exciting 2014 season with one of the most popular operas ever written, La Traviata. It was composed by Giuseppe Verdi in 1853 and, like Baz Luhrmann’s film Moulin Rouge, is based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, The Lady of the Camillias.
The “timeless tale of scandal, honour, sacrifice and love” is a three-way collaboration between State Opera SA, Brisbane’s OperaQ and the New Zealand Opera.
Violetta is a popular courtesan (or in today’s idiom, a sex industry worker) in the Parisian demimonde society of the mid 1800s with a nasty case of melodrama’s favourite disease, tuberculosis. Among their hedonistic set who party like it’s 1899 is Alfredo who is hot for her.
The pair retreat to the country (with a seriously questionable retirement plan) to live happily ever after, but this is opera so you know things are about to go horribly wrong. Enter Giorgio, Alfredo’s father who breaks up their relationship revealing Alfredo to be a king-sized [expletive]. Violetta forgives everything when the pair eventually reunites and, before they can run off and get a room, she carks it.
As a stand-alone story, Dumas’ plot has more holes than a porcupine’s underwear, but Verdi added brilliant tunes and Director Kate Cherry and SOSA did a bang up job with the rest, so all is forgiven.
CEO and Artistic Director Timothy Sexton’s fascinating pre-show talk promised the on-stage chemistry between the stars, Russia’s Elvira Fatykhova as the doomed heroine Violetta, and Adelaide’s Aldo Di Toro as her lover Alfredo, was going to be “palpable”. In an impressive example of extreme underselling and marvellous over-delivering, the stage lovers were so hot that they had this romance fan from their very first on stage kiss.
Mario Bellanova is also wonderful as the austere but very dreamy Giorgio, and a nod to Naomi Hede as the stalwart Annina.
Fatykhova and Di Toro’s arias are wonderful highlights; but Addio, del Passato Bei Sogni (Farewell sweet dreams of the past) by the former is an absolutely stunner.
The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was conducted superbly by Nicholas Carter; the thematic exchanges between orchestra and soloists were delicate and beautiful, and the orchestral underpinning to the drama on stage, solid and subtle.
Set and costume designer Christina Smith made the ladies shine, from Violetta’s red dress against the grey and silver chorus hues in Act 1 to the re-virginized Act 3 Violetta, now in white and sporting a red camellia in her hair; she looked as good as she sounded. (Dumas’ character uses this to indicate to her lovers that when wearing this, she is not well enough to… entertain.)
The audience, who put a similar effort into their own costuming, looked absolutely splendid. The much-practiced interval sport of people-watching added value to an already great night out, with some serious eye candy about if one was of a mind to be looking *wink*.
Following the outstanding final scene, ingeniously lit by Matt Scott, and ending with an appropriately dramatic timpani roll, I laughed at overhearing this gem about Violetta, “she sings pretty good for a crook hooker.”
This is an impressive performance of an opera with enduring appeal to opera newbies and experts alike. Watch out for the chorus’ gorgeous fishtail frocks, the clever and disarming body double, and a lot of jimjam wearing.
Three shows remaining.
Reviewed by Emily Morris
Venue: Adelaide Festival Theatre, King William Street, Adelaide
Season: 3- 10 May 2014
Duration: 2 hours 45 minutes
Tickets: from $60
Bookings: Book through BASS online or phone 131 246