Traviata Remixed, showing this week at the Amsterdam Grachtenfestival before a one-off performance at the pop festival Lowlands, is the latest production of Operafront. This young company has for mission: “to fight for the existence of opera in the 21st century, by telling the stories of the old masterpieces in a language that is understood by audience of today”. Frontwoman and artistic director Lotte de Beer’s concept certainly succeeds in making the theatrical experience fashionably contemporary, but musically, the arrangements by Moritz Eggert are a dumbed-down version of Verdi’s score that misses the mark.

Alexandra Flood (Violetta) © Jeroen van Zijp
Alexandra Flood (Violetta)
© Jeroen van Zijp

A prostitute meets the well-bred son of a wealthy and reputable family and they start a relationship. The father doesn’t approve and forces her to break-up. Ruined, she dies alone from an incurable disease. At its core, the plot of Verdi’s La traviata is timeless, and it has already been staged at just about every possible period in history. In her fast-paced staging, Ms de Beer does indeed use the language and visuals of our time. Violetta is that pretty party girl whose path you might have crossed  in the Amsterdam nightlife. She snorts coke in the lavatory, dances on tables and sings karaoke. The public is invited to join Violetta’s party in the Zuiveringshal West, a former 19th-century industrial complex now converted into a trendy events’ venue. The audience is seated on beanbags and plank scaffolding around a stage without clear boundaries. Extras walk in and out, even encouraging the audience to join in and hum along during the Brindisi – admittedly with very limited success. There is an unapologetic use of laptops and smartphones as props. Behind the stage, video screens relay, in a dynamic mosaic, Violetta’s friends’ tweets, their selfies of wild parties, or the clippings of tabloids reporting on Alfredo’s scandalous relationship.

Alessandro Scotto di Luzio (Alfredo) and Alexandra Flood (Violetta) © Jeroen van Zijp
Alessandro Scotto di Luzio (Alfredo) and Alexandra Flood (Violetta)
© Jeroen van Zijp
The experience of partying in the company of Violetta Valery could have been an enjoyable one if it wasn’t for the musical arrangements composed by Moritz Eggert that left Verdi’s score in tatters. I found this remix for a small amplified instrumental ensemble including an accordion, electric guitar and bass, with the addition of a DJ – as in: Violetta’s dance party – thoroughly uninspiring. Whatever sound might have come from the musicians of the Youth Orchestra of the Netherlands was pretty much flattened down throughout by amplifier and electronic dance (off)beat. Thankfully, the singers, all miked, brought some respite in this rampage. As Violetta, the young Australian soprano Alexandra Flood stands out and impresses by a committed performance and some assured singing. Ernst Daniël Smid plays the least empathic of Giorgio Germonts, but then again, in 2016, an industry magnate member of the “1%” ought to be an unashamed bully. As Alfredo, Alessandro Scotto di Luzio has an appealing timbre though probably not heard at its best through amplification.

Some opera buffs will tell you one measures the success of a Traviata according to whether one cried at Act IV or started already from Act II. Of course, this is a joke: times when I get goosebumps or feel my eyes water at the opera are still rare moments. It does however illustrate the intrinsic power that Verdi’s gutsy music can have on an audience. A power so primal that it can entrance any human being – one really does not have to be an experienced opera-lover to feel it. For all its sleek and upbeat staging, with the music stripped down to a shred and battered down by an electronic beat, this Traviata left me absolutely unmoved. I was entertained but left feeling short-changed. Hopefully, opera can find other ways to appeal to a 21st-century public.