Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan



Toronto - The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts

La Traviata Opens Canadian Opera Company Season


Marina Rebeka as Violetta. Photo by Todd Rosenberg


We sit in the third tier of the packed Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects and where The Canadian Opera Company opens its 2015/2016 season with Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata. The Four Seasons never fails to impress me with its immense see-through beautiful wall of glass fronting Toronto's University Avenue, augmented with glass staircases, allowing the patrons (much like Roy Thomson Hall) to create form and colour.

Tonight, three principals, the husband and wife team of American tenor Charles Castronovo as Alfredo and Russian soprano Ekaterina Siurina as Violetta (doomed lovers) along with powerful vocalist Quinn Kelsey as Germont, Alfredo's father, are wonderful to watch in action, their voices pure and potent. La Traviata is based on La dame aux Camélias (1852), a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas.

Noted New York theatre director Arin Arbus and conductor Marco Guidarini work well together to depict this epic story of loyalty, sacrifice and heart break in 1850s Parisian society. Billed as one of opera's greatest romances, La Traviata scandalized its Venetian audience in 1853 when it premiered because it featured a Parisian courtesan, aka high-class prostitute in love with a nobleman.

Another star performer tonight is visual artist and designer Cait O'Connor. Her sumptuous costumes are a pleasure to behold, particularly in the two salon scenes with the chorus filling the stage with colour, the men impeccable in their tails with white gloves and vests and the women outfitted in lavish ball gowns like a sea of hydrangeas on steroids. O'Connor is aided and abetted by set designer Riccardo Hernandez, Marcus Doshi's lighting and choreography by Austin McCormick.

A scene from La Traviata. Photo by Robert Kusel Sandra Corazza, Canadian Opera Company Costume Supervisor provided me with much more information regarding the costumes. Sandra is a graduate of Niagara College's Technical Theatre program which featured design and technology and from there she moved directly to the Stratford Festival, then to the Banff Centre, temporarily back to Stratford and finally ended up at the Canadian Opera Company.

According to Sandra, the COC does have a wardrobe warehouse collection like Stratford but wardrobe is not rented out. This opera was co-produced first with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and after Toronto, the Houston Grand Opera. Costumes arrived from the Lyric Chicago and alterations and new tailoring was performed in Toronto with 22 people listed in the program in myriad design roles. Houston is next so by then, there may be 3 or 4 wardrobes of each major character in a box that heads south.

Natural fabrics such as wool, cotton, silk are employed because they move better, feel better and look better under the lights. Fabric comes from New York City's garment district and stores there that cater to theatre and because Toronto's garment area has declined, often European sources are employed.

COC programming includes La Traviata (October 8 - November 6), Pyramus and Thisbe (October 20 - November 7), Siegfried (January 23 - February 14), The Marriage of Figaro (February 4 - 27), Carmen (April 12 - May 15), and Maometto II (April 29 - May 14)

Ticket Information: Single tickets range from $50 - $435 and are available online at coc.ca, by calling 416-363-8231 or in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office (145 Queen St. W.). For more information on specially priced tickets available to young people under the age of 15, standing room, Opera Under 30 presented by TD Bank Group, student groups and rush seating, visit coc.ca.





Director's Notes - by Arin Arbus (From the program)
One must remember La Traviata scandalized the censors when it was written. Why? Because Verdi chose to write about the hypocrisies of the society in which he was living. As much as the opera is a deeply drawn psychological portrait of a woman struggling to love and survive, it's a social critique. The story depicts a woman destroyed by a brutal and petty world. The love which Violetta and Alfredo create together is a rebellion against that world.

The chorus embodies the "teeming desert of Paris" from which Violetta attempts to escape. It's a stratified and moneyed sphere, filled with courtesans who are briefly kept by upper-class and aristocratic patrons until they are discarded, often to destitution.

In The Lady of the Camellias, upon which the opera is based, Dumas fils writes: "[Courtesans of Paris] are suns which set as they rose, unobserved. Their death, when they die young, is heard of by all their lovers at the same moment, for in Paris almost all the lovers of a well-known woman are friends. A few recollections are exchanged, and everybody's life goes on as if the incident had never occurred, without so much as a tear... one has friends only when one is perfectly well."

Violetta's life is a solitary and empty one, despite the crowds, the pleasures and the parties. She has no friends. No family. This kind of life has made her sick-physically and psychically. Giorgio Germont reveals the bourgeois principles from which Alfredo rebels. Germont has conventional, rigid ideas about right and wrong. He values appearances and reputation more than love or happiness. This is a world which Verdi knew well.

Years after his wife and children had died, Verdi endured admonishments for living outside of marriage with the renowned soprano Giuseppina Strepponi. In an extraordinary letter to his former father-in-law, Verdi wrote what Violetta does not say to Germont: "I am not accustomed to interfere in other people's business, because I demand that no one interfere in mine... In my house there lives a free, independent lady who loves seclusion as I do... Neither she nor I owe any account of our action to anyone. Who knows whether she is my wife or not? And who knows in this special case what our thoughts and reasons are for not making it public? Who knows whether this is good or bad? Why might it not be a good thing? And even if it were bad, who has the right to hurl the ban against us?"

We have set this production in the 19th century, as Verdi intended, because the dramaturgy rests so deeply upon 19th-century bourgeois concepts of morality. And because the life and trade of a Parisian courtesan were so specific. Violetta's shame and her precarious financial situation are rooted in the values of her time and sit at the crux of the tragedy.

But the period is just the surface. The immediacy of the music, the characters, their situations and passions remain vital and relevant. How different is Violetta's world from our own?

Summary (Wikipedia)
Act 1
Scene 1: Violetta Valéry, a famed courtesan, throws a lavish party at her Paris salon to celebrate her recovery from an illness. Gastone, a count, has brought with him a friend, the young nobleman Alfredo Germont, who has long adored Violetta from afar. While walking to the salon, Gastone tells Violetta that Alfredo loves her, and that while she was ill, he came to her house every day. Alfredo joins them, admitting the truth of Gastone's remarks. Baron Douphol, Violetta's current lover, waits nearby to escort her to the salon; once there, the Baron is asked to give a toast, but refuses, and the crowd turns to Alfredo, who agrees to sing a brindisi - a drinking song.

From the next room, the sound of the orchestra is heard and the guests move there to dance. After a series of severe coughing and almost fainting, feeling dizzy, Violetta asks her guests to go ahead and to leave her to rest until she recovers. While the guests dance in the next room, Violetta looks at her pale face in her mirror. Alfredo enters and expresses his concern for her fragile health, later declaring his love for her. At first she rejects him because his love means nothing to her, but there is something about Alfredo that touches her heart. He is about to leave when she gives him a flower, telling him to return it when it has wilted. She promises to meet him the next day.

After the guests leave, Violetta wonders if Alfredo could actually be the one in her life. But she concludes that she needs freedom to live her life. From off stage, Alfredo's voice is heard singing about love as he walks down the street.

Act 2
Scene 1: Violetta's country house outside Paris: Three months later, Alfredo and Violetta are living together in a peaceful country house outside Paris. Violetta has fallen in love with Alfredo and she has completely abandoned her former life. Alfredo sings of their happy life together. Annina, the maid, arrives from Paris, and, when questioned by Alfredo, tells him that she went there to sell the horses, carriages and everything owned by Violetta to support their country lifestyle.

Alfredo is shocked to learn this and leaves for Paris immediately to settle matters himself. Violetta returns home and receives an invitation from her friend, Flora, to a party in Paris that evening. Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont, is announced and demands that she break off her relationship with his son for the sake of his family, since he reveals that Violetta's relationship with Alfredo has threatened his daughter's engagement because of Violetta's reputation.

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Meanwhile, he reluctantly becomes impressed by Violetta's nobility, something which he did not expect from a courtesan. She responds that she cannot end the relationship because she loves him so much, but Giorgio pleads with her for the sake of his family. With growing remorse, she finally agrees and says goodbye to Giorgio. In a gesture of gratitude for her kindness and sacrifice, Giorgio kisses her forehead before leaving her weeping alone.

Violetta gives a note to Annina to send to Flora accepting the party invitation and, as she is writing a farewell letter to Alfredo, he enters. She can barely control her sadness and tears; she tells him repeatedly of her unconditional love. Before rushing out and setting off for Paris, she hands the farewell letter to her servant to give to Alfredo.

Soon, the servant brings the letter to Alfredo and, as soon as he has read it, Giorgio returns and attempts to comfort his son, reminding him of his family in Provence. Alfredo suspects that the Baron is behind his separation with Violetta, and the party invitation, which he finds on the desk, strengthens his suspicions. He determines to confront Violetta at the party. Giorgio tries to stop Alfredo, but he rushes out.

Act 2, scene 2: At the party, the Marquis tells Flora that Violetta and Alfredo have separated, much to the amazement of everyone who had previously seen the happy couple. She calls for the entertainers to perform for the guests. Gastone and his friends join the matadors and sing.

Violetta arrives with Baron Douphol. They see Alfredo at the gambling table. When he sees them, Alfredo loudly proclaims that he will take Violetta home with him. Feeling annoyed, the Baron goes to the gambling table and joins him in a game. As they bet, Alfredo wins some large sums until Flora announces that supper is ready. Alfredo leaves with handfuls of money.

As everyone is leaving the room, Violetta has asked Alfredo to see her. Fearing that the Baron's anger will lead him to challenge Alfredo to a duel, she gently asks Alfredo to leave. Alfredo misunderstands her apprehension and demands that she admit that she loves the Baron. In grief, she makes that admission and, furiously, Alfredo calls the guests to witness what he has to say. He humiliates and denounces Violetta in front of the guests and then throws his winnings at her feet in payment for her services. She faints onto the floor. The guests reprimand Alfredo.

In search of his son, Giorgio enters the hall and, knowing the real significance of the scene, denounces his son's behavior. Flora and the ladies attempt to persuade Violetta to leave the dining room, but Violetta turns to Alfredo.

Act 3
Dr. Grenvil tells Annina that Violetta will not live long since her tuberculosis has worsened. Alone in her room, Violetta reads a letter from Alfredo's father telling her that the Baron was only wounded in his duel with Alfredo; that he has informed Alfredo of the sacrifice she has made for him and his sister; and that he is sending his son to see her as quickly as possible to ask for her forgiveness. But Violetta senses it is too late.

Annina rushes in the room to tell Violetta of Alfredo's arrival. The lovers are reunited and Alfredo suggests that they leave Paris. But it is too late: she knows her time is up. Alfredo's father enters with the doctor, regretting what he has done. After singing a duet with Alfredo, Violetta suddenly revives, exclaiming that the pain and discomfort have left her. A moment later, she dies in Alfredo's arms.

Robert Gleadow as Dr. Grenvil and Ekaterina Siurina as Violetta, Photo Michael Cooper

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