Our production of La traviata features not one but two casts this season to give as many audiences as possible the chance to catch it in Leeds and on tour.
That means we have two singers taking on the role of Violetta: Máire Flavin and Alison Langer. We were keen to find out what it was like sharing a role and their thoughts on the show.
What is your history with this role?
Máire: La traviata was the first opera I saw in Dublin aged 16 and I fell in love with it then. I debuted the role 5 years ago in English. I’m relishing a return to it.
Alison: I have played the role twice before now: once as a young artist and secondly as a role share in 2021. I actually sang the role 10 weeks after giving birth to my son Ted! Of all the roles to be performing, I was certainly jumping in at the deep end!
How do you respond to Violetta as a person?
Alison: I adore her! Violetta is someone who has many acquaintances but not many friends. I think she’s quite a lonely person and it’s only when Alfredo takes her away to the countryside that we see her blossom and breathe properly for the first time. Her constants, Annina and the doctor, are probably the closest she has to true friends. I get so moved by the way she is with other people. She never thinks of herself, to her own detriment. Even on her death bed, she tells Annina to give all her money to the poor. Seeing someone who is so pure and giving, suffering in the ways that she does, is truly heartbreaking. After every rehearsal, I just want to give her a huge hug!
Máire: Violetta is a very strong woman who is true to herself. She has made her own way in the world. In the face of terminal illness, she makes a brave decision and embraces a new life. When then confronted with letting her last chance of true happiness go for the good of others, she is incredibly generous and puts their lives ahead of her own.
What is it like having two casts working on the same show?
Alison: I’ve shared the role of Violetta before and it’s a really interesting process. You have to keep switched on and make sure that both casts have rehearsed each scene. Sometimes watching Máire, she will do something and I’ll think ‘I’m definitely stealing that!’ However, there are some scenes that we’re doing slightly differently, mainly from personal preference. I have worked with Máire before and we have a great working relationship, as well as being mums! So we can relate in many ways. With her, it’s a really enjoyable process.
Máire: It’s a joy to share this role with Alison Langer. We worked together years ago on La bohème and she’s a ray of light. It can really help to be able to see how things are looking from the outside – usually you are just in it and have to trust it. The same is true for the singing. It’s always good to hear someone else’s approach.
How tricky is it to perform the death scene?
Máire: Although Verdi gives Violetta some very big singing from her deathbed, the emotion of her reunion with Alfredo makes sense of it. The sudden feeling of life flooding back to her right before she dies is also something true to life as those dying can have that last lucid moment and feeling of impending release from the pain of suffering. You are certainly emotionally and physically spent after the role.
Alison: All of the singing leading up to her death is mainly Violetta trying to muster as much energy as she can to get up and out of bed, but her body is constantly reminding her that she can’t and that she’s too weak. Right at the end, there is a point where she suddenly feels better and her pain has gone; she feels that life is entering her body again and she is going to live. I still haven’t performed that part without being in floods of tears. It’s tricky to do the death scene because it is so beautifully sad and very hard to imagine what that feeling must be like.
Why should people come and see this production?
Máire: If you haven’t been to an opera before, this was my first opera and I fell in love with it all – the emotion, the phenomenal singing, sumptuous costumes and sets. What’s more, you can get a cheaper ticket through Opera North’s Try it ON scheme! If you’re a regular opera-goer, come for the catharsis of La traviata. Just the chords are enough to have me welling up.
Alison: La traviata is an absolutely perfect gateway into the world of opera if you haven’t seen one yet. The music is truly beautiful and you will definitely recognise a lot of it. I also feel like we could all take a leaf out of Violetta’s book. Selflessness is a quality that we don’t see much in our daily lives right now. She is an amazing example to people everywhere and if you see her story, it would be hard not to want to be more Violetta!