Opera Australia’s current production La Traviata, directed by Elijah Moshinsky and first staged in 1994, is a sumptuous, desperately romantic take on the full-hearted tragedy, and it’s an emotional experience. This is a story that pops up all over the place in different tellings and forms – think Pretty Woman and Moulin Rouge – and the opera, itself based on a Dumas novel, is perhaps the best, most evocative imagining of gorgeously doomed love.
Violetta (Lorina Gore), a courtesan, has returned from a sanatorium where she has been trying to recover from consumption. The last thing she wants is to restrict the relative freedom and pleasures in her life, but then she meets Alfredo (Rame Lahaj), who she can’t help but love. They start a life together, even though Violetta has to sell everything she owns to fund it, and for a time, it seems as though she and Alfredo will be truly happy.
Unfortunately, Alfredo’s father Père Germont (José Carbó) can’t support the relationship ;it’s casting aspersions on his daughter and her upcoming wedding and he’s worried about his son – so he visits Violetta and asks her to do the noble thing and set her son free. She can’t, she says – she loves him too much, and she’s ill, and she might die. But she does it, because she’s kind-hearted.
When Violetta is back in her home, now empty from her first sacrifice and lonely from her second, it’s a sparse and tragic image that only further underscores the opera’s romantic heart – everything done for love is noble, even extreme deprivation.
Things don’t end well, as is opera’s wont, but the way Moshinsky ushers the piece to its inevitable end is immensely rewarding. Verdi’s score is indulgently realised by Renato Palumbo and the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, summoning the soaring-plummet of the course of love
In the world as designed by Michael Yeargan, La Traviata feels achingly real, like a memory – Violetta’s drawing room is vivid and feels both lived-in and unattainable; in the garden, the cold air is almost summoned forth in the Joan Sutherland as leaves fall from browning trees, skimming the ground as a gentle reminder of the passage of time (something this couple has so little of).
And in the hands of Lorina Gore Violetta is fragile and steely, emotional and selfless. It’s in the second act that she moves into something sublime, singing with Père Germont (José Carbó); they are both complicated and both want the best for Alfredo – Gore and Carbó refuse to be sketches of heroes or villains, instead shading their performances with a selfsame compassion that only brings the unjustness of their conflict into sharper relief: in another world, they would have adored each other.
That compassion is never too far away in Moshinsky’s production. His chorus of dilettantes crammed into Violetta’s drawing room are endearingly silly and never cruel; at the end of the second act, they rise as one to condemn Alfredo for insulting Violetta, not led by Père Germont’s objection but possessing of their own. It’s pleasingly supportive and while it’s clear that Violetta’s status as a courtesan is the source of her troubles, Moshinsky places the blame on the dominant social structure and not on Violetta.
This production of La Traviata looks, feels, and sounds like epic, undeniable love: it’s a known, embraced force.