Tatyana Gürbaca’s new production of Verdi’s La traviata transports the action into a apparently present-day Paris, a brutal world populated by remorseless hedonists, with seemingly little room for human compassion. While Gürbaca’s production is at times a little heavy-handed, she still manages to create a deeply human drama.

In Gürbaca’s Traviata, Violetta surrounds herself with thoroughly awful people. The first act party almost descends into an orgy during the Brindisi, the women on their knees, blankly staring into the crotches of their undressing partners. So determined is Gürbaca to show the extent of the party guests’ depravity that they parade across the stage dressed in animal masks and grotesquely exaggerated nude body suits towards the end of the act. The depiction could possibly have been scaled back for even more effect. The following acts did not attempt any kind of nuance, but instead focused on portraying the Parisian bourgeoisie in ever more unflattering ways, as people only interested in their own pleasure.

Aurelia Florian (Violetta) © Erik Berg
Aurelia Florian (Violetta)
© Erik Berg

Henrik Ahr’s sets are sparse, consisting only of a raised platform in the middle of the stage, where most of the action takes place. Often, characters would observe the action from below the platform, just within reach. The first half of Act II was observed by men in suits, showing just how close Paris still is, both in Violetta’s mind, but also physically. When Germont and his daughter enter, the men join them up on the platform, showing Violetta how easily the daughter can take her place in Parisian high society; the reasoning behind Violetta’s sacrifice becomes painfully apparent.

Perhaps the most interesting character in Gürbaca’s Traviata was Annina, sung by Natalia Tanasii. She appeared throughout the opera, functioning as both Violetta’s servant, but also someone who clearly looked up to her mistress, and constantly tried to be like her. From the outside, Violetta isn’t a tormented, terminally ill woman, but instead a partying courtesan, constantly having fun – a model to be emulated. Even as Violetta descends even further into illness, Annina continues upholding the image of the adored courtesan, outright ignoring Violetta as she lies dying.

Aurelia Florian (Violetta) and Daniel Johansson (Alfredo) © Erik Berg
Aurelia Florian (Violetta) and Daniel Johansson (Alfredo)
© Erik Berg

Aurelia Florian’s Violetta was overall most successful where acting was concerned. She sang the first act coloratura cleanly enough, but overall, there was a lack of emotional impact, mostly due to her straying sharp a lot of the time, at times as much as a semitone. Daniel Johansson’s Alfredo was passionately sung, and he stayed on pitch most of the time. Some more nuance, both in his portrayal and in his singing, could have been wished for, but he was singing Alfredo, after all. Vocally, the standout was Audun Iversen’s Germont. His voice is remarkably secure, and he sang the long Act II duet with Violetta with heartbreaking sincerity. He managed to find a more manipulative side for “Di Provenza il mar” and the power with which he hurled out the high B flat at the end of Act II scene 1 was breathtaking. Conductor James Gaffigan led the orchestra in an occasionally rushed performance of the score. Still, he kept the piece going admirably and never overpowered the singers.

Gürbaca’s new production of La traviata showcases the human side of Verdi’s drama. Without crinolines and champagne flutes to hide behind, the human condition is laid out before the audience, in all its unpleasantness. While the direction is sometimes on the heavy-handed side, it still shows just how difficult it is to escape one’s past. Despite somewhat variable singing, it is still a production very much worth seeing.