Verdi’s La Traviata closes Israeli opera’s 2021-22 season

Israeli opera has never been shy about staging bold, even controversial, productions of classic operas. Just recently this season, we wrote about Handel’s Alcina featuring actors dressed as 1950s biker gangs.

The current production of La Traviata, by 19th-century Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, continues in this vein.

The costume is particularly flamboyant, the work of a former Dior designer; perhaps that’s what prompted fashion store Factory 54 to lend their support.

Truth be told, the cast’s modern dress itself isn’t jarring, as the tasteful evening attire suits the recurring theme of the jet-set party. Even the partial stripping of Act I, which ends with a mock orgy, isn’t unsettling, as it brings to life Violetta’s tune “Semper Libre,” her determination to live a life of absolute hedonism.

Rather, the dissonance sets in later, as the props of modern technology – cell phones and video camera surveillance screens – are out of place in a plot that so clearly adheres to Victorian mores. These ubiquitous 21st century tools are even more out of step with operatic lyrics and onstage actions, which reference and represent handwritten letters.

Yet, as usual, the timeless music of the immortal Verdi, coupled with the brave performances of the talented artists, triumphs over everything. From the famous drinking song at the start of Act I, Libiamo ne’ lieti calici, to the moving final duets of Act III, we are captivated by the performances.

At the gala premiere of this production, remarkable performances were given by the two protagonists: the Israeli soprano Hila Baggio in the role of Violetta and the Italian tenor Oreste Cosimo in the role of Alfredo. The first is a familiar voice at the Israel Opera, while the second is making its debut in Tel Aviv.

Similarly, two alternate lead roles are also making their Israeli opera debut: Armenian soprano Anush Hovhanissian as Violetta and American tenor Joseph Dennis as Alfredo. (A third Alfredo, Leonardo Capalbo, was originally scheduled to perform, to be replaced by Cosimo.)

Interestingly, the other major role in La Traviata – that of Giorgo Germont, Alfredo’s father – is shared by two baritones from Romania: Ionut Pascu, who is no stranger to Israeli opera, and Sebastian Catana , which also ran here, but not as frequently.

The conductor for this production is Israel Opera Music Director Dan Ettinger, who holds the baton on the podium of the Israel Opera Orchestra, the Israel Rishon Symphony Orchestra Lezion. The director is Alessandro Talevi, a South African who has worked with Israeli opera in the past.

A moving moment took place at the end of the encores of the premiere: Maestro Ettinger bid a public farewell to Russian-Israeli bass-baritone Vladimir Braun – pictured here as Violetta’s doctor, Dr Grevlin – who is taking his retirement after this run after a 30-year career at the Israel Opera. Braun has played over 80 roles in countless appearances for admirers in Tel Aviv.

The final performance of this production of La Traviata will take place on August 11.

Israel Opera’s next season – which will include eight productions scheduled until July 2023 – will kick off in November with Jacques Offenbach’s fantasy opera Tales of Hoffman.

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