I am sure we have all experienced it before. You are at a party and there is one individual that stands out in the crowd. You know, ‘the life of the party’. There have been countless iterations of this scenario on both stage and screen. None of which are probably more iconic than Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. There have been many variations of this classic story and last night I witnessed a phenomenal, authentic performance of La Traviata by Opera Australia.
First performed back in 1853, La Traviata sees Violetta Valéry, a courtesan, host parties in Paris. Everyone is in awe of her beauty, but little do they know, she is dying. Alfredo Germont, unaware of her impending fate, is smitten and professes his love. She takes a chance and moves to the countryside with Alfredo, with hope to live out their lives in peace. Alfredo’s father, Giorgio, has other plans and visits Violetta at their country home. He convinces her to leave Alfredo for the sake of Germont name. Heartbroken and distraught, Alfredo confronts Violetta at a party back in Paris, and in the process insults Violetta and brings shame upon himself. Alfredo attempts to win her back but will he do so before she succumbs to her illness?
Conducted by Renato Palumbo, Stacey Alleaume takes the stage as Violetta Valéry with Ho-Yoon Chung as Alfredo Germont and Mario Cassi as Giorgio Germont, along with a huge ensemble cast, the Opera opens with the whole cast on stage at the party in Paris. Everyone is fabulously dressed, and the theatre rings out with a choir of incredible voices.
At the Opera, the cast do not perform songs, they perform Arias and Sonnets. Each member also has a specific voice type for their respective roles. Violetta is a Soprano; Alfredo is a Tenor and Giorgio is a Baritone. Opera is also traditionally Italian, and whilst I do not understand anything that is being sung, there is a screen above the stage that displays Surtitles. Think of them as summarised subtitles, enough translation to cover the basic plot and events that are unfolding on stage.
There is so much to love about Opera Australia’s La Traviata. Even before the curtains were raised, Orchestra Victoria perform a beautiful prelude. And as soon as the curtain lifts, we are presented with a lavish, intricately detailed set and a cast dressed in beautiful period pieces. I was in awe; I have never seen a set so detailed before. And to think the crew had to rip it down and build a whole new set for both acts two and three, completely blew my mind. Massive props to the set designer Michael Yeargan and their crew. These sets would not be complete without the aforementioned beautiful costumes. Peter J Hall has outdone himself with the level of detail in these costumes, bravo.
Now, the Opera would not be the Opera without the incredibly strong voices behind the roles. What is even more impressive, is there is no microphone and speakers for these performers. Their vocals are projected to the audience. Mario Cassi and Ho-Yoon Chung as father son duo Giorgio and Alfredo Germont respectively, are both as brilliant as each other with their vocal performances. The huge cast of eleven supporting roles including Danita Weatherstone as Annina, Violeta’s maid, are just as good. The vocals are rounded out with the even larger Opera Chorus of over thirty vocalists, and when they are all singing at once, wow, what a sound to behold!
However, the clear stand out of Opera Australia’s La Traviata is Stacey Alleaume as Violetta Valéry. Her stunning Soprano vocals command the entire theatre each time she is on stage. Whilst Alleaume’s mutant lungs are impressive, it is her acting that elevates this portrayal of Violetta to the next level. As mentioned, Violetta is sick and dying, Alleaume brings this part of the character to life with the coughing, changes in her voice as she struggles to breathe and the visible weakness in her body language. Stacey Alleaume’s moving performance is phenomenal, and I am thankful I got to witness it.
The Opera is unlike any other theatre experience, and whilst I have seen a couple of other Opera’s before, this was my first time seeing La Traviata and it is the best one yet. It is easy to see why this Opera is so popular and has had so many modern representations of the story. The two hour and forty-minute performance are easy to follow and easy to consume with two intervals. Not only does this allow the audience with a break to discuss what has just taken place, it also provides the crew with valuable time to switch out the elaborate sets, which I still do not know how they do it!
La Traviata is a fabulous and heart-breaking Opera and a must-see for any fan of the stage. If you have never seen the Opera before and are not sure what to expect, La Traviata is the perfect ‘first time experience’ and is not as overwhelming as some other Operas I have seen. There are only seven performances left of this incredible production, so put on your best outfit and make a night of it!
Opera Australia’s La Traviata is on at Melbourne’s State Theatre until the 28th of May. Head to the Arts Centre website for dates and times and grab yourselves a ticket.
Photography by Jeff Busby.