The Scottish Opera returns to the Festival Theatre with its famous production of La Traviata by Sir David McVicar.
Set in Paris in the 1880s the magnificent opera focuses on the doomed love affair between Violetta and Alfredo. Violetta is a courtesan living with the wealthy Barone Douphol, who throws a party for Violetta as she recovers from a serious illness. At this party she meets an admirer, Alfredo and ultimately falls in love with him, leaving behind her comfortable lifewith Barone Douphol. They move to the outskirts of Paris. However, Violetta and Alfredo struggle and Violetta is forced to secretly sell all of her belongings. Alfredo’s father visits them while Alfredo is gone to buy back Violetta’s things and he manipulates Violetta into leaving Alfredo and encourages her to return to her former life.
To sever all bonds with Alfredo, Violetta tells him she loves Barone Douphol and after paying her back and sullying her reputation, Alfredo fleds Paris. In the last Act, Violetta has been abandoned by all her friends and protectors, only her maid Annina is by her side. She is on the verge of dying – the tuberculosis has finally caught up with her. Alfredo visits Violetta on her deathbed and she forgives him before dying in his arms.
Violetta is played by the captivating Russian-Dutch soprano Gulnara Shafigullina whose on-screen chemistry with Alfredo, Dutch tenor Peter Gijsbertsen, was extremely convincing. So often the downfall for operas is the acting of the performers, but in this instance their relationship was extremely believable. However the death scene was a little ridiculous with Shafigullina constantly reviving from death to sing a last line before dramatically falling aside again. The anguish expressed by Alfredo, Violetta’s maid and Alfredo’s father was undeveloped and required more work- it was difficult to sympathise with those left behind. The ensemble were especially strong helping to create the opulent background of Parisian court life and providing various entertainment throughout the lengthy songs. There was an enthusiasm throughout the opera that was greatly appreciated by the audience.
As always, my main criticism after leaving the theatre is the appalling state of the subtitles. I have yet to understand why they aren’t provided throughout the songs. The likelihood of a non-Italian speaker remembering the translation for a line sung thirty seconds earlier, or even recognizing it, is zero to none and thus there is the occasions where the audience sits through long songs with a rough idea of what is being sung but no real connection to the words. It can become tedious and causes audience members to lose interest and stop engaging with the work. It surely would not be difficult to provide subtitle through all the work, it would not decrease any opera goers appreciation and instead could involve a younger audience member throughout the piece.
The first act became a little tired with Violetta being left on stage alone for an extended period of time and whether through a combination of the darkened stage, the repeating lyrics with no corresponding subtitles, or a slightly plain performance from Shafigullina, the final ten minutes of the first act fell flat.
An enjoyable production of perhaps the most famous opera, it is a fantastic first opera for opera novices and a well executed favourite for the regulars.