La Traviata: Live Opera on Screen in Trafalgar Square

Posted: May 22, 2014

Tuesday night saw the live broadcast of Richard Eyre’s production of La Traviata, which celebrates its 20th year at the Royal Opera House. Viewers from all over the globe could stream it online from their ipad while several open-air locations throughout the UK broadcasted it live to the public. Since 2000 ‘BP Big Screen Live’ has been providing opera broadcasts due to its success in encouraging first-timers to opera and experiencing it for free. Despite the warning of potential rain, Trafalgar Square was a full house.

Violetta was played by Ailyn Pérez who has had a charming relationship with the Royal Opera House. She was Liù in this year’s production of Turandot where she received great applause for instilling tenderness and sorrow in her role. Tuesday night was no different; in fact, her performance was better.

Following the shambles of a première of La Traviata in 1853, its composer, Verdi, wrote to his friends that Violetta required a highly talented coloratura soprano who encompassed elegance, charm and beauty whilst embracing her shortcomings as a high-class prostitute dying from consumption. Pérez managed to maintain her vocal strength even after missing a couple of notes at the end of ‘Sempre Libera’. By Act 3 this was forgotten and she had managed to gain the audience’s undivided attention and even make some cry – Trafalgar Square was silent.

Stephen Costello, who plays Alfredo, is Pérez’s husband off-stage which provides a twist to their on-stage relationship. He imparts a refreshing illustration of Alfredo’s character in comparison to others; Alfredo does not pretend to be an aristocratic alpha male but a naïve man susceptible to intense emotions. For example, he shows us tears and remorse for embarrassing Violetta in front of society. One can imagine that the couple’s cleverly crafted depiction of Violetta and Alfredo is based on the countless practice sessions they have together at home, resulting in, nothing less than a stunning performance.

Germont (Simon Leenlyside) was a passionately aggressive father scrunching up letters and hitting his son (only once) who, unfortunately, did not provide enough conviction or sympathy for suffering Violetta. However, the dance choreographies from the gypsy girls and manly matadors were exciting. This was a combination of flamboyance, flamenco dancing, musical stamping and radiant smiles, which Trafalgar Square clearly enjoyed; some even hummed the song in the intervals.

In addition to the sumptuous costume, the set design by Daniel Dooner follows the success of 20 years through the use of large spaces for the scenes of high society versus the small intimate spaces for the lovers. This gives the production a sense of juxtaposition that Verdi wanted the audience to see. An example of this is when the full-of-life carnival song ‘baccanale’ takes place outside Violetta’s home and large silhouettes overshadow her lonely and critically ill state. Dooner’s stage and Eyre’s direction are reminders of the private; feeble nature of Violetta, versus the public; realism of 19th century values that Verdi wanted to undermine for his own artistic purposes.

The next BP Big Screen Live showing takes place on the 15th July of Puccini’s La Boheme.

Read more posts by Mary Nguyen here and follow her on Twitter @MaryGNguyen