Violetta, haute couture, & sharing the opera stage with fashion

Violetta, haute couture, & sharing the opera stage with fashion

Jenna Simeonov

Teatro dell’Opera di Roma opens its production of Verdi’s La traviata on May 24th - usually, an Italian company putting up one of opera’s biggest Italian hits, by Italy’s opera giant, isn’t particularly newsworthy. But this particular production is an exciting step for opera, and it’s a fantastic example of what it means for opera to extend itself across various artistic disciplines.

The production is directed by Sofia Coppola, American screenwriter, film director, actress and producer; La traviata will be Coppola’s operatic debut. It’s not the first time that film folk have dabbled in opera; Canada has become familiar with Atom Egoyan’s work at the Canadian Opera Company (Così fan tutte, Salome), and Autrian actor Christoph Waltz (of Tarantino-film deliciousness) directed Der Rosenkavalier at Vlaamse Opera in 2013.

Coppola’s opera directing debut isn’t even the most exciting part of Opera di Roma’s La traviata. The production’s costumes will be designed by Italian fashion legend Valentino Garavani (aka, Valentino); Violetta, sung by Francesca Dotti and Maria Grazia Schiavo, will sport four haute couture designed by Garavani, and apparently one of the dresses has taken over 800 hours to create. (The collaboration reminds us of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Massenet’s Thaïs in 2008, where Renée Fleming sang the title role in Christian Lacroix.)

It sound fabulous. Best of all, the pairing of designer and choice of opera is totally organic. Italian opera, Italian fashion, Violetta’s one-of-a-kind gown to go with her one-of-a-kind personality, it all flows beautifully.

The buzz surrounding this Traviata will hopefully do good things for Opera di Roma, which is suffering financial stress like plenty of companies today. Sure, the whole production is a bit of name-dropping; pairing an operatic classic with notable people like Coppola and Valentino is great publicity, but each piece of the puzzle holds its own when it comes to quality.

Combining fashion design and opera is like any use of cross-disciplinary art - it’s about finding balance. Valentino wouldn’t be a great choice for the costumes of Hänsel und Gretel, say, and perhaps Coppola wouldn’t have been wise to choose a brand new work as her first foray into directing opera. Likewise, there’s little room for homage to hip-hop in Dialogues des Carmélites, or to try adding the Can-Can in Wozzeck.

Verdi plus Coppola plus Valentino very well could result in something that’s even greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s the whole point of reaching across artistic lines. Fashion and opera can easily share the same stage, and by no means does it have to happen at the scale (and cost, presumably) of Valentino in Rome. Young companies and young designers could be a really cool joining of forces, perhaps doubling up on audience interest in the process.

Of course, we can’t wait to see some production photos from Coppola’s La traviata

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