Verdi's La traviata is about a high-class call girl who leaves the love of her life so as not to bring shame on his family, though you might miss the prostitutional element if you blink your eyes in this revival of Dieter Dorn's production at the Berlin Staatsoper. Set designer Joanna Piestrzyńska, adorned the stage with a giant cracked mirror with a sack draped over the top. The mind sets to work to decode these symbols. Does the mirror suggest Violetta’s vanity? The cracks being her fatal flaws? There’s a white substance piled up on the floor. Is it salt? Cocaine? None of these make sense in relation to the plot or characters, so they have to be disregarded as dressage.

Abdellah Lasri (Alfredo Germont) and Sonya Yoncheva (Violetta) © Bernd Uhlig (2015)
Abdellah Lasri (Alfredo Germont) and Sonya Yoncheva (Violetta)
© Bernd Uhlig (2015)

Violetta was played by Ailyn Pérez and when she started singing I thought she must have been a mezzo, her voice was so extraordinarily rich. Her movement on stage, the fretting, and the to-ing and fro-ing, suggested the actions of a woman trapped by fate, with no escape other than self-sacrifice. She may have ducked out of the optional E flat at the end of “Sempre libera”, but with every other note delivered with bewitching grace she earned her ovations.

One of the most incredible elements of the book is to do with the title. The Lady of the Camellias got her name from the fact that she wore a red camellia when she was on her period, and a white one when she was not... and therefore available to customers. This titular detail is scooped out of the opera, with Pérez struggling in and out of a silvery dress to indicate the domestic or social context.

Alfredo sees himself as a man wronged, and Abdellah Lasri sang his part with requisite misguided heroism. Lasri liked to throw in a few old-school sobbing ‘yelps’, which are not to everybody’s taste. Alfredo Daza’s Germont had the stubborn petulance of antique morality, albeit with a slightly woolly sense of annunciation.

Abdellah Lasri (Alfredo Germont) and Simone Piazzola (Giorgio Germont) © Bernd Uhlig (2015)
Abdellah Lasri (Alfredo Germont) and Simone Piazzola (Giorgio Germont)
© Bernd Uhlig (2015)

As well as the mystery mirror dominating the stage (and forcing the party guests to remain motionless), Dieter Dorn’s direction had a couple of try-hard moments, including a lingering transvestite and a set of white-clad dancers who seemed to represent death, but whose advancement when Violetta’s consumption kicked in was hinted at, but abandoned.

Willy Decker’s production of La traviata was alluded to when Alfredo stuffs his cash up Violetta’s dress to humiliate her, rather than simply throwing it at her feet. If you are going to pinch ideas, you might as well pinch from the best.

Eun Sun Kim was an interpretative conductor, cauterizing some of the orchestral lines to enhance the tension, particularly in the transportive “Addio del passato” in Act 3. Elsewhere she brought a gripping sense of drama in the unfolding of one of opera’s masterpieces.