Nicola Raab’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata is a daring deconstruction of the original melodrama that questions its source material. In Verdi’s work, the heroine Violetta, performed here with elegant gusto by Natalya Pavlova, is driven by the fear of death into a fantasy world where love can rescue all, but oppressive 19th century virtues persist. Aside from Pavlova and Ainārs Rubiķis’ superb musical direction, baritone Günter Papendell stands out as Alfredo’s father Giorgio. Raab’s take on Verdi’s work, coupled with its inevitable, almost pyrrhic outcome, lends the proceedings a melancholic air. The austere set design channels an emotional emptiness that provides a fitting backdrop for the black-and-white simplicity of Violetta’s imagined world. Overall, Raab’s framing implicitly questions the appeal of romantic opera and its perpetuation of restrictive gender roles. If the audience is seeking escape by watching La Traviata, are they just as addled as Violetta? The production creates a certain uneasiness among the audience, as if we have been wrong-footed and don’t know when to laugh and when to cry. Ultimately, it successfully restores a radical, interrogative aspect of Verdi’s opera, which has been mystified, neutered, and done to death since its premiere in 1853.
La Traviata | Komische Oper, Mitte. Jan 10, 17, Feb 1, 12, 22, with English surtitles.