16 September 2012

Spoiler alert: she dies of opera!

To launch the new season of the Opéra de Montréal, a lovely production of Verdi's La Traviata, featuring Myrtò Papatanasiu as Violetta, Roberto De Biasio as Alfredo and Luca Grassi as Giorgio.

As I am not a musical expert — I just know what I like — I will not attempt to critique the musical talents of the cast. I will say that the music itself is lovely and they did good service to it. The first act is really loaded with the tunes that are more popularly familiar, while the second features a lovely gypsy song (while I do not personally use that term to describe the Roma people, Verdi did) and a bullfight song and performance that was quite nice too. In the third act, I was surprised by Violetta's speaking the contents of the letter she received (who knew she could do something other than sing her words?!), and there were some more spoken words by the character later on as she draws near to death.

The plot, as usual, is very entertaining. Violetta is wooed by Alfredo, but cannot return his love. She does, however, invite him to return the day after the party, and relishes the state of being loved. My favourite line was something about being free to race from joy to joy, which is a delightful way to live if you can.

We skip to Violetta's house in the country, where she is secretly having her maid sell her Parisian possessions to maintain the country lifestyle she is living with Alfredo, and she seems after all to have become rather attached to him. Alfredo feels awful that she is selling everything to support him and secretly steals off to Paris to try to rectify that situation. While he's gone, his father Giorgio pops in to share the news that everyone thinks Alfredo is squandering his family's fortune on her and imploring Violetta to leave him to save the family honour. She reluctantly agrees but, of course, doesn't really come clean with Alfredo and leaves him on the sly with an ambiguous letter delivered to him later.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, Violetta's friend Flora is having a fabulous party. There is the Roma people song (!) that I mentioned earlier, and the performance that goes with the bullfighter song involves the killing of four mock bulls, the last seems to have been killed with a withering glance. There were supposed to be five bulls, so one of the guests obliges and does a bad job of being the fifth bull without the bull outfit.

Who knew that Alfredo would show up at this party?! He is incensed that Violetta seems to be there with the Baron and, after decimating the Baron's fortunes by gambling and winning against him, he throws his winnings at Violetta's feet in payment for past favours. How insulting! And adding injury to insult he seems to have challenged the Baron to a duel as well.

The next time we see Violetta, she is on her deathbed. The doctor tells the maid that she probably only has a few hours to live. The mail arrives! It is a letter from Alfredo announcing an impending visit, and Violetta perks right up to the point that we think she might survive. But alas, she is stricken by opera (an inoperable form) and is doomed to leave us. She does have time, however, to offer Alfredo a small bedside portrait of herself for him to give to his next lover (she has an odd sense of occasion, I must say!). She dies in a flourish as her visitors freeze in position and her spirit gets up and sings and dances before finally collapsing to the ground. Everyone is sad, but satisfied.

Some of the most entertaining spectacle of going to the opera is the hierarchy of applause at the end. The curtain rises and the minor characters are there to receive applause. In a surprising departure from custom, enough people leapt to their feet at this point that we all had to get up in order to be able to see! Kind of takes away the impact of leaping to one's feet for the more substantial stars!

Then we get waves of groups of characters building gradually to the leads, who lead the group in rushing forward to take collective bows, interspersed with individual accolades. The conductor joins them on stage and draw attention to the orchestra, which does not move, but receives its due. A couple of non-costumed people come out, likely the director and stage director, maybe the accountant (?) (I kid), and we embark on another frenzy of bows and applause until the curtain comes down and the lights go up.

The Opéra de Montréal, fresh from some live blogging experiences last year, has fired up the Twitter machine this year. I obliged by tweeting during the intermissions and pauses, and only some of my cleverness was frustrated by the autocorrect on my phone (bulldog for bullfight…really?!!). I thought they might have taken it too far when it looked like Violetta's bedside portrait was the Twitter egg (the one that is assigned to your profile if you don't upload a photo), but it might have been failing eyesight on my part combined with the distance from a rather small picture. They did, however, retweet one of my tweets (alas, the autocorrected one).

A delightful evening in delightful company, and a good start for the new season. Next up: Le vaisseau fantôme (The Flying Dutchman) by Wagner, in November.

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