Sunday, July 21

Scottish Opera: La traviata – Festival Theatre

It is an under-reported fact that the 2001 Baz Luhrman jukebox musical Moulin Rouge is an adaptation of 1853 Verdi opera La Traviata, itself an adaptation of the 1848 novel La Dame aux Camelias, the most famous (and autobiographical) work of Alexandre Dumas Fils (son of the more well-known creator of the Three Musketeers). All three works take place in Paris and, in all three, a famous courtesan (here Hye-Youn Lee as Violetta Valery) with consumption falls in love with an idealistic young man (here Ji-Min Park as Alfredo Germont) with a disapproving father (Giorgio Germont as Phillip Rhodes). She then forsakes all others until convinced to leave him by a father figure, which she does reluctantly with a lie, for an aristocrat (either a Count, a duke, or here Baron Douphol, played by Nicholas Lester) who threatens her lover’s life. Said lover, once spurned, publicly throws money at her in “payment” for their time together, and the two are reconciled only for her to die of the aforementioned secret lung disease.

Maybe these are spoilers, but then all three of these stories are between 176 and 23 years old, and must therefore be considered beyond spoilers. The version currently on stage at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre evidently believes so, as it takes place entirely on the cracked marble tombstone of its female protagonist.

The production was first staged in 2008 by director Sir David McVicar, who was able to advise the rehearsals for this revival, directed by Leo Castaldi. Jennifer Tipton’s lighting is here revived by Robert B Dickson, most strikingly in the corridor of light through which Violetta exits at the end of Act II.

Having not seen the 2008 version, I cannot comment on this one’s faithfulness, or how advised that would be, outside of this production’s evident success in its own right. This story offers certain pitfalls in this day and age, when the concept of a “Fallen Woman” – the literal translation of La Traviata – who finishes her story with a painful death, would raise eyebrows in a modern context, as it did the opposite way in the 1850s (“How daaaare you speak about prostitutes!”).

However the production and text is sympathetic to its lead (as is, even, the disapproving father figure) and the two main actors manoeuvre skilfully through the emotional and musical changes of this doomed whirlwind romance. The rest of the cast is also made good use of, even when they are not technically part of the action, thanks to the transparent back wall through which we can glimpse the dinner parties and balls which form the backdrop of this intimate yet public love story; the latter aspect of which is emphasised here with a bedroom set for Act II scene 1, which cleverly vanishes during the scene. Tanya McCallin’s set is a perfect backdrop to all these scenes, providing luxurious openness, privacy or tragedy with relatively subtle changes.

Thanks to all these elements, the production, advertised as 2 hours and 50 minutes (including two intermissions and, amusingly, one “short pause”) flew by, amply demonstrating why this story and music has survived into its third century and why it is so beloved by both artists and audiences. Marie Duplessis, the inspiration of LA Dames Aux Camelias and its author’s lover, is said to have requested a weak lock upon her coffin as she always felt she would come back to life. Thanks to productions like this, in a way, she does.

La Traviata is running at the Festival Theatre 7th, 11th, 13th & 15th June 2024, 7.15pm, 9th June 2024, 3pm (Matinee). Tickets can be found at:  

Reviewer: Oliver Giggins

Reviewed: 7th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.