I am not stranger to the theatre. I often see musicals, attend symphony orchestra concerts and sometimes I see the occasional play. But for some reason, I had never been to an opera before. This all changed when I went to see Opera Australia’s La Traviata.
Why La Traviata as my first opera experience? La Traviata is quite possibly one of the most popular operas ever and present in a lot of pop-cultural references. In Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (both film and stage versions), there is an iconic scene of Felicia on top of a bus in a giant shoe being shiny and fabulous while lip-synching opera. The opera piece Felicia is lip-synching to is the aria ‘Sempre Libera’ from La Traviata. The opera in Pretty Woman that Julia Roberts and Richard Gere’s characters, Vivian and Edward go see is La Traviata with the aria ‘Amami Alfredo’ playing a huge part in the film’s storyline and heartwarming ending. La Traviata was also the inspiration for the film, Moulin Rouge where a courtesan falls in love, only to tragically die later.
In La Traviata, we meet Violetta, also a courtesan who is seen as rich, independent, wealthy and established in society. While celebrating her recovery from an illness by throwing a lavish party, she meets young, handsome and provincial Alfredo. Meeting Alfredo causes conflict in Violetta. She is torn between doing what she’s always known or following her heart. Surprisingly, she does follow her heart and finds true love in Alfredo. Not only has Violetta given up being a courtesan to live in a secluded cottage far away from the city with the one she loves. But in her mind, she has turned over a new leaf and has started a new life. This happiness is short-lived when Violetta is requested to separate from Alfredo, even though she loves him. And thus, tragedy ensues.
Opera Australia’s production of La Traviata is an emotional rollercoaster, breathtaking and visually stunning. The sets are far more detailed than any musical I have ever seen, especially the set which was a room with a ceiling and chandelier. The costumes were so colourful, detailed, elaborate and fashionable, I really felt like I had gone back in time. Not to mention, Verdi‘s music is beautiful. I could listen to it all day, even without anyone singing along to it.
From my first opera, I did learn a few things. The opera singers don’t use microphones; they are trained to naturally project their voice in a way that can fill a whole theatre. I was so surprised and shockingly impressed by this. I learnt that like a symphony orchestra concert, when attending an opera, you are meant to applaud conductor, which is fair because it truly is an art to play music loud enough to be heard, but not drown out the voice of the opera singer who has no microphone. I also discovered that there are more people on stage in comparison to a musical, and this is because their numbers and meant to help combine to amplify their sound.
While most operas are in Italian, times have changed where we now have the availability of surtitles which translate what the opera performers are singing. Sometimes, the translations stay on the screen because the opera singer is just repeating the same line dramatically. Even though there were surtitles, I often found myself lost in the moment watching the performers sing, that I forgot to read the surtitles. I also discovered that upon looking at my programme book, that there is no setlist and that songs aren’t called songs but are ‘arias’ in opera.
La Traviata is the epitome of a tragedy. I have been told that in most dramatic operas, there’s usually a death, while in comedic operas, there is usually a wedding. I haven’t seen a comedic opera before, but in La Traviata, there was definitely a death. The plot of La Traviata is no secret and even though I knew how the story would play out, I was surprised by how captivated I was with the production and even found myself crying at the end.
I was worried that perhaps the opera would be too ‘full on’ for my liking, but the experience was nothing like I expected. The transition from liking symphony orchestras and musicals was not as hard nor foreign as I thought it would be. If anything, if you do attend the theatre but have never been to the opera, you’re doing it wrong. I also think that attending the opera is something everyone should do once in their life at the very least.
Quoting ‘Pretty Woman’; “People’s reactions to the opera the first time they see it is very dramatic. They either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.” I loved La Traviata, I think I’ve developed a crush for the opera and I genuinely can’t wait to go again.
La Traviata is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne from the 17th of April to the 11th of May, 2018 so get in quick if you want to see this incredibly impressive production. You never know what amazing experiences are waiting for you outside your comfort zone. I listened to my curiosity, tried something new, and I’m so glad that I did.
For more information, visit: https://opera.org.au/whatson/events/la-traviata-melbourne
Photography by Jeff Busby.