I am writing to you from our workshops in South Auckland and looking at the designs for La traviata being executed. Unsurprisingly - since they are work of the same creative team that brought us the ravishingly beautiful Madame Butterfly last year - they are extremely lavish and strikingly elegant. As indeed befits the opera itself.
As for ‘period', it is the intention of the team not to pinpoint a precise epoch in the production. The men are in black tie and tails at the party scenes; the women’s dresses, however, exist in a creative space whose cut/silhouette might be interpreted as 1880s but also with a nod towards the 1950s as well. In other words, the production is taking a look at the very heart of the opera – the role of women in a male-dominated society – rather than attempting to depict a slice of history on stage.
Q. So it is both – traditional and modern?
Whether what we will see in La traviata constitutes a ‘traditional’ production or not, I find it very hard to say. I have spent my entire working life in opera, and to this day I have yet to be given a plausible definition of a 'traditional production' that everyone agrees on. A lot of people came up to me after Madame Butterfly commenting how nice it was to see a ‘traditional’ production. This was actually quite strange because, if you think about it, Butterfly lived in a large lantern which seemingly sat on the stage of a kabuki theatre. What the creative team of Kate Cherry and Christina Smith did so artfully was to immerse you in the storyline and the characters, so that questions of was it ‘traditional or modern’ simply didn’t arise. The same will apply to La traviata.
Kate and Christina are not known for an interventionist or deconstructionist approach to their work – the tell-tale signs of ‘modern’ productions. Rather, their work is always marked by the incisive truthfulness of character and story-telling that we saw in Madame Butterfly coupled with an extremely beautiful aesthetic.
By Aidan Lang, General Director, NZ Opera.