Moral issues & well-loved tunes: BK Opera's La traviataInterview
Based in Melbourne, Australia, BK Opera is set to open its production of La traviata, August 18-26. BK Opera is all about “the ‘bare bones’ of the opera, stripping away the usual pomp and circumstance to find the raw emotion at the heart of these pieces. No sets. No props. No microphones. Just beautiful music and amazing singers.”
Verdi’s Traviata is a prime choice for bringing focus on great music and great singing, and we had the chance to chat with BK Opera conductor James Penn about what makes the opera and its characters so timeless.
What elements of “immorality” that surrounded La traviata when it was first written do you think still hold weight today?
The largest one is the demonisation of sex workers. In its day, the character of Violetta was portrayed in quite a sympathetic light - the audience of the time was not overly happy with this. I think today, however, while we have moved on somewhat, sex workers are still demonised. We sometimes forget about moral issues that still carry weight in opera by assuming they are not relevant to us anymore, but I think the demonisation of sex workers in the greatest issue surrounding this piece.
What are the unique challenges of rehearsing and presenting such a staple piece as La traviata?
The challenges of rehearsing staple repertoire mainly lie in peoples’ preconceived notions of the piece. They come to rehearsal subconsciously thinking they know the whole thing when they don’t. For example, everyone has heard or probably sung the “Brindisi”, but knowing that there is a rest in the middle of the word “questo” might slip one’s mind.
Fine details are hard to rehearse in any opera, but they are a particularly hard challenge in staple repertoire. “The devil is in the details,” as they say, but with a piece like this, it is hard to come at it with a blank slate. With less performed pieces, it is sometimes easier to develop your own interpretation - with so many performances out there it is almost inevitable to have someone else’s version at least slightly in your ear.
What are some common misconceptions that opera lovers may have about La traviata or its characters?
I think the idea that Violetta is a delicate, fragile person who sacrifices herself for a man is a problematic one. She makes the decision to leave Alfredo with a heavy heart and is independent and strong - which then makes her death all the more heart-wrenching.
Do you have any favourite moments in the score/libretto?
“Aaaaamami Alfreeeeeeedo!” Hands down.
For full details and ticket information about BK Opera’s La traviata, August 18-26, click right here.