It is a joy of gargantuan proportions to witness Handa Opera’s La Traviata in all its passionate glory on Sydney Harbour, with the Harbour Bridge and Opera House and Sydney skyline as a spectacular backdrop.
A massive chandelier – frequently lit up in many a hue – hovers above the stage throughout, held fast by a large crane. A brightly lit Parisian backdrop with the Eiffel Tower at its epicentre sits behind an intricate square stage area with flourishes, angled to face the audience, upon which narrow sets of stairs have been crafted. All this, together with a large banquet table, long silver bench seat and fireworks aplenty, both literally and figuratively.
While a significant component of what makes this production so special, the staging (Brian Thomson is responsible) remains but one part of the triumphant realisation of Verdi’s tragic tale of courtesan Violetta. Foremost is the voice talent headlined by a virtuoso performance from soprano Stacey Alleaume, whose pure voice soars into the night sky. My admiration knows no bounds. She is ably complemented by the magnificent depth and resonance of tenor Rame Lahaj. The pair alternate their roles with Jessica Nuccio and Paul O’Neill.
So, to the narrative … A festivity is underway with all its finery, the head table resplendent in silver and gold, seemingly with no expense spared. We are about to witness a shattering love story in which a father’s meddling dooms a special union. Violetta is a high class prostitute who has tuberculosis. After receiving treatment, she throws a party to mark her re-emergence. It is there that Alfredo expresses her love for her and after due consideration, Violetta gives up her previous life to be with the man she has fallen for.
Three months on, Alfredo learns that for Violetta that entails selling all her belongings to meet their expenses. Driven by conscience, Alfredo leaves their house in the country to visit his father Giorgio and raise some money. Meanwhile, Giorgio calls upon Violetta to implore her to give up Alfredo for the sake of the family name and honour. As hard as it is to do, she reluctantly breaks off the relationship, leaving Alfredo bitter and seeking revenge on Violetta, leading to an ugly confrontation. Some time later, as Violetta lies dying, Giorgio informs his son of her sacrifice. He rushes to her bedside to reassert his love for her. Her feelings for him have never dimmed, but her maker calls.
Verdi’s spectacular music, conducted by Brian Castles-Onion, is often bold and uplifting, but then shifts gear, readily channeling disdain, remorse and tenderness. Rarely has lighting been more important than in this particular production. John Rayment has done himself and the company proud with his coat of many colours, represented in all facets of the staging. The rich, elegant, playful, varied and vibrant costuming by Tess Schofield is divine and she had nearly 100 “players” to dress.
La Traviata was the first open air opera presented by Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour nine years ago. Its impact remains undiminished. The opera itself debuted in Venice in 1853 and the story retains the emotional resonance it must have had when it first played to a paying audience.
Directed by Constantine Costi, with choreography by Shannon Burns and sound design by Des O’Neill, Handa Opera’s La Traviata is a vehicle of sheer beauty and brilliance. It transports the mind and the soul. I was transfixed. It is playing at Mrs Macquaries Point until 25th April, 2021. For bookings, go to opera.org.au/harbour
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- West Side Story (Opera Australia) – theatre review
- Australia Day (New Theatre) – theatre review
- Two Hearts (KXT) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.