On their own website and app, the Vienna Staatsoper premiered the Simon Stone designed and produced version of Verdi’s La Traviata, possibly the most popular of the ‘big sing’ operas. Starring Pretty Yende as Violetta, the South African soprano, who is establishing herself with the big roles and the big opera houses. She sings like an angel and looks so beautiful that it was hard to think of her dying of consumption in the opera. The Peruvian tenor, Juan Diego Florez, was Alfredo, and their duets were a tragic joy to experience.
Stone was originally an actor turned director, and recently he directed The Dig. His work is challenging, and his design for this La Traviata was cinematic with moving screens and geometric panels of light.
The opening was outside a neon Martina’s where party revellers in dress suits and shiny sequined dresses took selfies as they waited for the merriment to start. A tower of champagne glasses set the scene as corks popped for ‘Libiamo’. I never felt bored in over three hours, and the tragic love story played out to the wonderful Vienna orchestra and chorus. The last act was a triumph of tragedy, the pain in the voices, the despair “too late I wait in vain” as the Mysterioso music tugged at the heartstrings and tear ducts.
In a clinical white light hospital scene, the back screen projections of selfies of happier times caught a contemporary mood “The roses in my cheeks are fading. No tear or flower will deck my grave”. After a cry of “Now it’s all over” you could hear the revellers pass outside as Alfredo returned for the duets of death; the evocative ‘Parigi’ and ‘Di Quell Amor’. He, seeking forgiveness, “None shall part us again”, while the music is saying something more tragic. Violetta rages at God, “But if you’re returning cannot save me, nothing can”.
The video screens narrowed into a column of light, and it was all over.
It is well worth exploring the Vienna Staatsoper website, and you can experience the vocal beauty of Pretty Yende on CD with Dreams, and I am sure Sony expect her to be a mega-crossover artist like Andrea Bocelli.