One of opera’s most enduring and heart-breaking love stories, La traviata makes a welcome return to Opera North this season. Discover our top five reasons for making it your autumn must-see.

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1. Top of the Pops

La traviata consistently bags the number one spot in the list of the world’s most popular and frequently performed operas. After a somewhat rocky start when it was first staged, Verdi’s tale of a forbidden relationship quickly captured the hearts of people across Europe – and continues to captivate audiences over 150 years later.

Director Alessandro Talevi explains:

La traviata is one of the most famous operas and it’s because it has really emotional music and scenes of great power. It’s a very attractive opera to watch and a very compelling story.”

Nico Darmanin as Alfredo Germont and Alison Langer as Violetta Valéry in Opera North's 2022 production of La traviata © Richard H Smith

2. The Perfect Plot

The theme of love flourishing in the face of convention also appears in many films including Pretty Woman and Moulin Rouge, both of which mirror parts of the La traviata plot. In the famous scene in Pretty Woman where Edward takes Vivian to the opera house, it is Verdi’s masterpiece they go to see – a clear nod to the similarities between the two storylines.

There are equally strong parallels between La traviata and Moulin Rouge, but director Baz Luhrmann claimed his inspiration actually came from the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice rather than Verdi’s opera. Luckily, you can watch both La traviata and Orpheus in Opera North’s current season and make up your own mind!

Oliver Johnston as Alfredo Germont and Stephen Gadd as Giorgio Germont © Richard H Smith

3. Marvellous Music

One of the reasons for the opera’s enduring popularity is Verdi’s amazing score, parts of which have turned up in all kinds of unexpected places. Valentino even embroidered it on the gown Katy Perry wore for the Grammy Awards in 2014!

Chances are you’ll have heard some of the music before even if you don’t realise it. Violetta’s stunning paen to freedom ‘Sempre libera’ becomes drag queen Felicia’s anthem in Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of Desert as she speeds over the sands – and it was used as the soundtrack for Nissan’s Qashqui advert. The drinking toast ‘Brindisi’ sung by Alfredo in Act I has also been used by various brands, including Heineken, to sell their products.

Máire Flavin as Violetta Valéry © Richard H Smith

4. Girl Power

It may seem odd to talk about an opera featuring a high-class courtesan who is ultimately rejected by everyone as empowering for women, but Verdi makes us very aware of the double standards of a male-dominated society that encourages prostitution while also censuring the result. Throughout the opera, he engages our sympathy for Violetta’s plight, particularly as we become aware of her intrinsic generosity and goodness.

While the opera initially met with a mixed response, Verdi’s ground-breaking depiction of disease on stage will also surely have resonated with those women in the nineteenth century who would have been very aware of the harsh reality of consumption – a disease which was more usually romanticised in the art and literature of the time.

Alison Langer as Violetta Valéry © Richard H Smith

5. A Question of Style

When it came to staging the opera for Opera North, Alessandro tells us:

“I wanted to try a Belle Époque type of production because I felt it would depict the essential themes of the opera but, at the same time, give it a fluidity and an ease which you wouldn’t get in an 1850s style production.”

Thanks to Designer Madeleine Boyd, you’ll get to enjoy some flamboyant dresses and opulent sets inspired by the slightly seedy world of pre-WW1 Paris clubs. All this glamour contrasts with the stark simplicity of the final scene when the voyeurs waiting for Violetta’s downfall finally get the denouement they were hoping for.

Victoria Sharp as Flora Bervoix (top) and Gavan Ring as Gastone (centre) with the Chorus of Opera North © Richard H Smith

Intrigued? Find out more about La traviata, Verdi and this particular show with our In a Nutshell guide.

Keen to book? If this is your first opera, you can take advantage of our Try it ON scheme to get up to two great seats in the auditorium for just £20 each – and students can get theirs for £10 each by signing up for a free Under 30s membership. A relaxed/dementia-friendly matinee performance will be held on Monday 24 October at Leeds Grand Theatre.

La traviata is sung in Italian with an English translation displayed on screens either side of the stage, and lasts approximately 2 hours 45 minutes with two intervals.

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