Modern-dress 'Traviata' upsets La Scala puristas

Mon Dec 9, 2013 11:23am EST
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By Isla Binnie

MILAN (Reuters) - Milan opera buffs who wanted a Verdi opera to open a La Scala season in the bicentenary year of his birth got their way this past weekend, but many were not pleased with the new production of "La Traviata" they paid premium prices to see.

La Scala diehards were chagrined last year when the house opened its 2013 season with Wagner's "Lohengrin" instead of Verdi in the composers' joint bicentenary year, but that production was greeted with a 13-minute ovation.

The final curtain for "La Traviata" on Saturday was followed by more than 13 minutes of applause, but boos rang out as some of the cast and crew, including Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov and Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, took their bows.

The modern-dress production of Verdi's tear-jerker about a courtesan who dies of consumption after sacrificing her love of a young man for the sake of his family had a starry cast - German soprano Diana Damrau as the doomed Violetta and Italian opera specialist Daniele Gatti conducting.

But the production also featured touches like Violetta swigging from a bottle of Jack Daniel's whisky and one of her lady friends wearing a Native American-style headdress.

Such innovations did not sit well with some of the formal-dress audience who had paid as much as 2,000 euros ($2,700) per ticket for the 2014 season opening night.

"A triumph for Violetta and catcalls for the director," the Italian newspaper La Stampa said in the headline of its review.

"After so many years of non-Italian opening nights - Wagner, Bizet and more Wagner - and especially after 'Lohengrin' greeted Verdi's bicentennial birth year at last year's opening, Scala finally welcomed its native son back to the fold, with arms wide open, regardless of Wagner transgressions," blogger "Opera Chic", who specialises in La Scala productions, wrote.   Continued...