Left - Adrian Dwyer and Elvira Fatykhova. Cover - Elvira Fatykhova and Giorgio Germont.
Opera in Italian is like spaghetti and meatballs - the perfect match. La Traviata - Giuseppe Verdi's glorious opera - showcases this with gusto.
They are both so much larger than life, opera and Italians. Gregarious, extravagant, pleasure-seeking; big gestures and bigger voices. Wonderfully life-exaggerating, life-affirming, both.
The curtain opens to reveal a sumptuous Parisian party, but the ambience is infectiously Italian. The vino is flowing and the guests are merry. They sing drinking songs - the famed duet Libiamo ne' lieti calici is instantly recognisable to even opera novices. Be happy / The wine and singing / Beautify both the night and the laughter / Let the new day find us in this paradise.
Violetta Valery - the hedonistic heroine of Verdi's story, or as she will become the ‘fallen women' as the translated title suggests - has returned to the capital after recovering from tuberculosis. She meets a long-time admirer, the sweet-natured Alfredo Germont, who is soon confessing his love. After much hilarious internal debate Violetta will give up her life on the party circuit to settle down with her lover.
But nothing is that simple in opera. Money is tight, the in-laws are overbearing and there are romantic rivals waiting in the wings. There are family obligations, social standards, issues of love and morality. They are ubiquitously timeless themes in all their musically melodramatic glory. We watch Violetta's inevitable fall, inflicted by sickness and heartbreak. We're strangely touched by the genuine pathos. We care about her plight. We examine our own lives and what is important.
Doubt me, if you like. As a less-than-regular opera-goer I may have done the same. But just go and see it. You will be moved by this eternal masterpiece from Verdi and librettist Francesco Maria Piave.
What can you say about a 161-year-old score from one of the true Romantic masters? Only that the Queensland Orchestra, under the assured baton of British conductor Peter Robinson, brings it to life as you might expect. What a treat it is to peer into a crowded orchestra pit and hear this music reverberate around the renovated Lyric Theatre once more.
Russian Elvira Fatykhova has performed the lead role countless times in opera theatres around the world, including in Australia previously, but she is still deeply affecting as Violetta. The voice is as flawless as you might expect, but impressively it is her, largely, that grounds Verdi's soaring score with an emotional integrity and draws the audience closer. This production is also lucky to have accomplished Victorian tenor Adrian Dwyer, who makes his debut as Alfredo but is a charismatic match for the gorgeous soprano.
Special mention, too, must go to veteran Australian performer Douglas McNicol as Giorgio Germont, the father intent on restoring his family's name, and successful Australian export Andrew Collis as Doctor Grenvil. The popular John Bolton Wood, too, is typecast as the pompous protector of Violetta, Baron Douphol. The Queensland Opera chorus, 40-plus-strong, crowds the stage in fine, full voice. World-class stuff.
Elijah Moshinsky designed an original Australian production, which has been updated by emerging young director Julie Edwardson. It looks incredible, from Michael Yeargan's majestic and beautifully decorated sets, Nigel Leving's captivating lighting design that creates three seasons on stage, to Peter J Hall's gorgeous costumes that instantly transport you back to the Paris of 1877. All as grand as Verdi no doubt intended.
How does it stack up as a production, an opera behind only Madama Butterfly and La Boheme as the most performed work in the world? My admission is I'm not qualified to answer. But as a piece of theatre it is exquisite, a luscious treat for the eyes and ears and soul. Bellissimo!
Opera Queensland presents
by Giuseppe Verdi
Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC
Dates: 16 - 30 May
Tickets: $46 to $149 (inc. fees)