Everyone who ever watched Marie Antoinette wondered how well would Sofia Coppola do with a bit of extravagant and over the top good old time opera. Thanks to a certain king of haute couture, we wonder no more, as Francis’s daughter was invited by Valentino himself to put her hands and wits to the famous La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. The concept is not unheard of – in 1983, Franco Zeffirelli also staged Verdi’s opera, with no other than Placido Domingo as Alfredo.
For those not familiar with the plot, Violetta (Francesca Dotto), a Parisian socialite, spends her life going from party to party and man to man. But when a young man, Alfredo (Antonio Puli), declares his love for her, she lets herself fall for him, abandon the city and spend her days with him in rural contentment. Of course, things soon go awry for the two lovers, as Violetta is forced to let Alfredo go for his own good – and thus marks herself to die. Based on Alexandre Dumas La Dame aus Camélies, it has some of the most well-known Verdi arias, including Libiamo Ne’lieti Calici (Brindisi – The Drinking Song), and Un Di Felice, Eterea…
If you’re expecting pink macaron towers, Japanese neons or just Kirsten Dunst, you may be in for a disappointment. Coppola’s La Traviata has a simple yet efficient stage decor that allows for the clothes to do most of the decorative talking. As Violetta dresses range between reds, blacks and whites – in an allegory for her soul – the party scenes resemble a 19th century painting, full of chiaroscuro, as black and pale rose blend in the background. The beautiful staircase, from which Violetta makes her grand entrance, is unfortunately only used on Act 1.
Francesca Dotto gives Violetta a modern quality, as her cynicism and (later) vulnerability play perfectly well against Antonio Puli’s essentially good natured and somewhat naive Alfredo. Dotto’s voice may not be as arresting as other performers (Dame Jane Sutherland will always have a place in every opera lover’s heart on that regard), but the strength of her performance, underlined by the up close we could only get in a filmed performance, does move, particularly on her performance of Sempre Libera, and, of course, on her dramatic ending.
As the record of what must have been an impressive live performance, La Traviata gives us the basic, and not much more than that. The paint-by-numbers filming approach is used, and though we do win from seeing certain scenes up close, it does not try to raise above filmed theatre. Regarding the directing itself, Sofia Coppola fails to give us something new, not daring to go too far or modern on the staging, which – when comparing with other recent stagings, like the 2014 Met Opera starring Marina Rebeka – makes us wonder, if she has just settled into safe grounds. Certainly her new film, The Beguiled, premiering in the UK on 14th July 2017, will give us an answer to that question.
La Traviata will be in selected UK cinemas on 9th July 2017.