The Israeli Opera has never shied away from staging bold, even controversial, productions of classical operas. Just recently this season, we wrote about Handel’s Alcina featuring cast members dressed as a 1950’s biker gang.
The current production of La Traviata, by 19th-century Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, continues in this vein.
The costuming is particularly flamboyant, the work of a former leading designer for Dior; perhaps this is what prompted fashion outlet Factory 54 to lend its support.
Truth be told, the modern dress of the cast per se is not discordant, as the tasteful formal wear suits the recurring theme of jet-set partying. Even the partial disrobing in Act I, which concludes with a simulated orgy, is not unsettling, as it brings to life Violetta’s aria “Sempre Libre,” her determination to live a life of utter hedonism.
Rather, the dissonance sets in later, as the accessories of modern technology – cellphones and video camera surveillance displays – are out of place in a plot so clearly adhering to Victorian mores. These ubiquitous tools of the 21st century are even more out of sync with the opera’s lyrics, and on-stage actions, which refer to and depict handwritten letters.
Yet, as usual, the timeless music of the immortal Verdi, coupled with the bravura performances of the talented artists, triumph over all. From the famous drinking song at the beginning of Act I, Libiamo ne' lieti calici, to the final moving duets in Act III, we are enthralled by the performances.
At the gala premiere of this production, noteworthy performances were turned in by both leads: Israeli soprano Hila Baggio in the role of Violetta, and Italian tenor Oreste Cosimo as Alfredo. The former is a familiar voice at the Israeli Opera, while the latter is making his Tel Aviv debut.
Similarly, two alternate leads are also making their Israeli Opera debuts: Armenian soprano Anush Hovhanissyan, in the role of Violetta, and American tenor Joseph Dennis as Alfredo. (A third Alfredo, Leonardo Capalbo, was apparently originally scheduled to perform, only to be replaced by Cosimo.)
Interestingly, the one other major role in La Traviata – that of Giorgo Germont, Alfredo’s father – is being shared by two baritones who both hail from Romania: Ionut Pascu, who is no stranger to the Israeli Opera, and Sebastian Catana, who has also performed here, although not as frequently.
The conductor for this production is the Music Director of the Israeli Opera, Dan Ettinger, who is wielding the baton at the podium of the resident Israeli Opera Orchestra, the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion. The director is Alessandro Talevi, a South African who has worked with the Israeli Opera in the past.
One emotional moment took place at the close of the premiere’s curtain calls: Maestro Ettinger bade a public farewell to Russian-Israeli bass-baritone Vladimir Braun – pictured here in the role of Violetta’s physician, Dr. Grevlin – who is retiring following this run after a 30-year career with the Israeli Opera. Braun has performed more than 80 roles in countless appearances in front of Tel Aviv admirers.
The final performance of this production of La Traviata will be held on August 11.
The next season of the Israeli Opera – which will comprise eight productions scheduled through July, 2023 – kicks off in November with the opéra fantastique Tales of Hoffman, by Jacques Offenbach.