Saturday 10 October 2015

Opera Review: La Traviata, Musica a Palazzo, Venice

Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, which tells the tragic story of a fallen woman based on La dame aux Camélias (1848) by Alexandre Dumas, fils, had its very first performance in Venice in March 1853. So it seemed fitting that on my visit to one of the world’s most beautiful cities, the Secret Victorianist should take in a sumptuous and unusual production of this opera classic.

Inside the Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto
Away from the bright lights of Venice’s opera house – La Fenice – which seats a thousand and was home, in an earlier incarnation, to the La Traviata premiere, the Musico a Palazzo has made a name for itself by staging famous operas in the intimate setting of the Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto, a fifteenth-century palace on the Grand Canal.

Each act of Verdi’s opera was performed in a different room of the piano nobile of palace, with the building’s beautiful furniture and decorations, including frescoes by Gianbattista Tiepolo, providing an incredible backdrop for the tragedy.

The audience takes its seats for Act Two
The opera’s cast was cut down so that there were only three singing roles, adding to the sense of closeness between the audience and the performers. It was fascinating to see the singers up close rather than from a distant balcony, or when sat far back in an auditorium, and it was equally revealing to have a clear view of the musicians (a string trio and pianist), who are usually hidden in an orchestra pit.

What was particularly interesting for me, as a Victorianist, was how closely the experience seemed to replicate that of a nineteenth-century musical salon. I felt more of a guest in the palazzo than in any other historic house I have visited, in Venice or elsewhere. There is no ‘please don’t sit’ or ‘do not touch’. You’re part of the performance along with a small group of people – local and from all over the world – gathered here on this one night.

The cast for the performance the Secret Victorianist attended
Drinks, served at the first intermission and included in the entrance price, add to this feeling. There’s no mad rush to the bar and people seemed quite happy to mingle and talk about the performance.

What’s lost, of course, is much of the story of the opera being performed, and some of the music. This isn’t the kind of production that is going to provide you with English surtitles, and the cuts to the cast make the plot loose to say the least. It’s better to think of it as a dramatic concert in a stunning building – a chance for opera fanatics to immerse themselves in Violetta and Alfredo’s world, and for those new to the art form to appreciate an Italian passion in these glorious Venetian surroundings.

'Violetta's bedroom' in Act Three
If you’re looking for a romantic evening in Venice, or just to enjoy some beautiful music in a unique way, I’d really recommend it.

Membership to the Musica a Palazzo (necessary to attend a performance) is €75 and you can see the calendar of performances here.

Do you know of any New York City productions with a nineteenth-century twist you think the Secret Victorianist should see? Let me know – here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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