Myrto Papatanasiu dazzles audiences as Violetta. (Yves Renaud / Courtesy of Opéra de Montréal)
Myrto Papatanasiu dazzles audiences as Violetta. (Yves Renaud / Courtesy of Opéra de Montréal)

‘Popular trilogy’ concludes with La Traviata

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This past Saturday, Opéra de Montréal opened its 2012-2013 season with Verdi’s La Traviata. The opera tells the story of two lovers, Violetta and Alfredo, whose public love affair brings great shame to Alfredo’s family. After an unexpected visit from Alfredo’s father, Violetta realizes the detrimental consequences of her love affair on his family’s honour, and she leaves Alfredo. Alfredo mistakes her sudden departure for infidelity, and humiliates her in front of many close friends and family, including Alfredo’s own father. Some time later, Alfredo finally learns the truth about Violetta’s sacrifice, and rushes back to her side to apologize. Violetta, however, is dying from a serious illness, and Alfredo finds himself in a race against time.

“It’s really the story of a great love affair,” says Opéra de Montréal’s artistic director Michel Beaulac, “[It’s about] people who weren’t really meant to socially blend … to live together, to fall in love with one another, but they do, and … before she dies, all of the characters—the father, the son who is in love with Violetta—they all realize that finally, all of those social differences have no importance, and that this separation should have never taken place.”

La Traviata was written in 1853, during a phase in which Verdi wrote an opera approximately every nine months. This creative spree resulted in what is now known as his ‘popular trilogy’ of opera works—Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata. In the past two years, Opéra de Montréal has performed both Rigoletto (2010), and Il Trouvadore (2011), and concludes its presentation of Verdi’s trilogy with this week’s performances.

Few may grasp the amount of work required for such an elaborate production. “Before we go on stage, we start building the set; we mount the lighting equipment … and we start planning the sequence of when the set changes are going to take place, how they are going to take place, and how many members of the stage crew are going to be necessary to make this operation possible,” Beaulac said. “The most important roles are sung by artists who have done the roles several times, so they all know their parts.”

From the onset of the opera, the soloists were captivating in their roles. Grecian soprano Myrto Papatanasiu, playing Violetta, possesses vocal talent that not only allowed her to communicate the musical elements of the opera, but also to clearly express the complexities of her character, leaving audience members with a slight heartache after leaving the theatre.

In describing Opéra de Montréal’s process for choosing a soloist to play Violetta, Mr. Beaulac explains that “when you have something very specific in mind in terms of the characterization, the interpretation, the colour of voice, the stage presence … one must have the soloist in mind … and Myrto Papatanasiu is splendid in the role.”

Many of the choir members onstage are members of Opéra de Montréal’s apprenticeship program—a training program designed for graduate students wishing to pursue professional careers in opera. Beaulac describes the program as a “stepping stone and the final preparation for an operatic career,” in which the students “have coaching, language courses, movement courses, [and] acting classes.”

Italian tenor Roberto de Biasio flourished as Alfredo, and his humble stage presence allowed for a tasteful yet emotionally compelling performance. Luca Grassi’s performance as Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, was the highlight of the evening. In comparison to Violetta’s often dramatic persona, Grassi’s simple acting style quickly grasped the audience’s attention. His sonorous, colourful voice, paired with this tasteful acting technique, briefly drew the spotlight away from Violetta and forced the audience to listen—truly listen—to what he had to say.

La Traviata will be showing at Place des Arts, Wilfred-Pelletier hall, Sept. 18, 20, and 22. Opéra de Montréal offers heavily discounted ticket prices for students that range from $20-$25