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Opera Australia's La Traviata - Review

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by Fiona Anderson (subscribe)
A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
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Sparkling! Sumptuous! Superb!
The music of La Traviata draws me in from the outset. Verdi's music is emotional and evocative, and the instant I heard the first strains of the Prelude, with its plaintive violin theme, the hair on my arms started to rise.

The curtains open and we're transported to the salons of Paris in the 19th century. "Sumptuous" is the word that pops into my head as I take in the visual feast on stage. The set is plush and immediately engaging. There's a party in full swing.

Opera Australia's La Traviata - Review
The sets are sumptuous

But let me first provide some context. The English translation of 'La Traviata' is 'The Fallen Woman'. The composer of La Traviata, Giuseppe Verdi, liked to confront his audience. He based La Traviata on a play by Dumas, The Lady of the Camellias, drawn to the storyline because to Verdi, it represented 'a provocative idea' to have a 'fallen woman' - a non-conventional hero - as the central character.

There are three main characters in La Traviata. The first is Violetta, the 'fallen woman', a beautiful courtesan who enjoys a rich life of parties and lavish entertainment funded by the wealthy men she entertains. The second is Alfredo, a young country gentleman who falls for Violetta. The third is Alfredo's father Giorgio.

Violetta has recently spent time in a sanatorium for the treatment of consumption (tuberculosis). Her health has improved sufficiently for her to return home and throw a party to celebrate. And that takes us back to the opening scene, where the party is in full swing.

Enter Alfredo (Ho-Yoon Chung), who has long admired Violetta from afar. He asks his friend Gastone (Iain Henderson) to introduce them, and Alfredo is finally able to tell Violetta of his love for her. Alfredo sings a toast - Libiamo ne lieti calici (commonly known as 'the Brindisi'). It's a rollicking good melody that would be recognisable to many.

Opera Australia's La Traviata - Review
Alfredo (Ho-Yoon Chung) sings of his love for Violetta (Stacey Alleaume)

Violetta (Stacey Alleaume) faces a dilemma. Does she continue her bohemian lifestyle, or leave it in pursuit of love with Alfredo? She sings of her confusion in Sempre Libera. It was in this aria that Stacey Alleaume clearly demonstrated why she has made the role of Violetta her own. Her beautiful, soaring soprano voice was mesmerising. She seemingly hit every note with ease and unerring accuracy.

Jump forward six months and Violetta and Alfredo have moved into a country house together. The set now is more spartan, the lighting sets a somewhat bleak mood, trees gently drop leaves in what is a beautiful piece of stagecraft.

I will simplify the story somewhat and say that with Alfredo away, his father Giorgio Germont (Mario Cassi) visits Violetta and pleads with her to leave his son. Alfredo's sister is to be married, but Violetta's status as a 'fallen woman' may damage the family's reputation and jeopardise the marriage. While Giorgio, against his better judgement, finds he is impressed with Violetta, he continues to urge her to end the relationship. Finally, reluctantly, she agrees. The duet between Mario Cassi as Giorgio and Stacey Alleaume - Dite alla giovine - is one of the many highlights of this performance. It is pure, goosebump-inducing magic. There's perfect synchronicity between Mario Cassi's divine, rich baritone and the variously sweet, soaring and plaintive tones of Stacey Alleaume.

Opera Australia's La Traviata - Review
Mario Cassi as Giorgio and Stacey Alleaume as Violetta - one of many highlights.

Violetta returns to Paris to attend yet another lavish party. It's a good excuse for another stunning set, and some entertaining scenes involving the full chorus.

Opera Australia's La Traviata - Review
Party time!

Inevitably, as in all good operas, events take a downhill turn. In the final act, Violetta's consumption has advanced. In regular attendance are her caring maid Annina (Danita Weatherstone), and Doctor Grenvil (Richard Anderson). Violetta clutches a letter from Giorgio Germont in which he tells her he has explained to his son about the sacrifices Violetta made, and that Alfredo is making his way back to her to beg her forgiveness. Here, Stacey Alleaume has me in tears with her performance of the haunting Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti.

Opera Australia's La Traviata - Review
Doctor Grenvil (Richard Anderson) attends to Violetta

In the final scene, Violetta, Alfredo, Annina, Giorgio and Doctor Grenvil are all present. The direction of this scene was, I felt particularly beautifully handled. I also loved the clever use of lighting earlier in the scene, where Annina throws open the windows to 'let in' the sunshine.

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta all but stole the show. Her performance was faultless. As well as singing like an angel, she's a convincing actor - critical to the successful performance of the role of Violetta. There was no question she was, rightly, the audience favourite.

Mario Cassi has a relatively short relationship with Opera Australia, but a long history of performance in Europe. He's a seasoned professional and it shone through. He was a perfect choice for the role of Giorgio.

Unfortunately, on the night we attended, Ho-Yoon Chung's singing voice projected at a considerably lower volume than other principal artists. There was a notable imbalance when he was singing duets with Violetta, for example when expressing his love for her in Un di, felice, eterea in Act I. This issue was the subject of much discussion amongst the audience members around me during the intermissions. I have previously seen Ho-Yoon Chung perform and know him to have a wonderful resonant tenor voice; he has also been performing the role of Alfredo with Opera Australia since 2017. I can't explain what was causing the issue, but I know we didn't see Ho-Yoon Chung at his best.

I had the opportunity to speak with Stacey Alleaume for a few minutes after the performance. She was friendly, approachable and modest. After such an emotional performance, and with such obvious approbation from the audience, I asked her how she was feeling. "Overwhelmed." she said. "I'm overwhelmed by the response and the love I felt from the audience. It's particularly special as Melbourne is my hometown." My partner David said to her "You have a voice that comes from heaven!" Stacey replied: "That's the highest compliment you could pay me, thank you!"

I read in my research for this review that La Traviata is the most commonly performed opera in the world. If you only see it once in your life, see Opera Australia's performance! Opera Australia's La Traviata is a visceral experience. Verdi's music - which I heard described as 'easy to listen to but difficult to achieve' - performed by talented singers, accompanied by a world-class orchestra, with luscious sets, is too good a proposition to miss out on. Highly recommended!

You can view the official trailer for the production here:

La Traviata is playing at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 28th May.

Tickets are $75 - $289. Click here for ticket sales.

The running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes, including two intervals.

The production is sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Image credit

All images in this article were supplied by Opera Australia. Photographer: Jeff Busby.
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*Fiona Anderson was invited as a guest
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Why? A brilliant performance of this Verdi favourite
When: Until 28th May. Check website for session times.
Phone: (03) 9685 3700
Where: State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Cost: $75 - $289
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