Thursday 10th October, 6.15pm – Curzon Mayfair, Screen 1
Friday 11th October, 12pm – VUE West End, Screen 5
Wednesday 16th October, 12.45pm – BFI Southbank, NFT2
Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata is one of the world’s most celebrated operas, with big orchestral numbers like Brindisi frequently making their way into mainstream culture. The musical recently returned to contemporary popularity as the basis for Baz Lurhman’s glitzy 2001 film Moulin Rouge. Based in turn on Alexandre Dumas’ novel La Dame aux Camélias, the tragic love story tells the tale of Violetta, an esteemed courtesan suffering from tuberculosis, who falls in love with the romantic and idealistic Alfredo. When Violetta leaves her love in the hopes of bettering his life, her own condition worsens and she becomes deathly ill. At the climax of the opera, the couple reunite and reconcile in an iconic final scene, drawing to a close as Violetta dies in Alfredo’s arms.
In the summer of 2011, Jean François Sivadier brought an open-air production of La Traviata to the Aix-en-Provence festival in France, starring the celebrated Natalie Dessay as Violetta. Now director Phillipe Béziat presents his documentary Becoming Traviata – a behind the scenes look at the preparations and effort applied to Sivadier’s production. It is undeniably a commendable effort, full to bursting with talent. Sivadier is totally immersed in his production throughout, guiding his cast every step of the way and liaising intently with every crucial member of his crew.
Unfortunately, no amount of endearing excitement or talent could save this film. While the clips of Dessay and her co-star Charles Castronova hitting unimaginable high notes are rather stunning, they quickly become common place among an otherwise dreary reel of day-to-day rehearsals. In fact, much of the movie consists of large chunks of Sivadier discussing the use of a hand gesture or the deliverance of a line with his diva. There is neither footage of the final production, nor any interviews to offer an insight as to the cast and crew’s feelings about the show or the characters.
While an insight to the creative process behind the incredible talent and massive production is a very intriguing idea, it is executed poorly. The documentary is close to two hours long and plays as though someone accidentally left a camera running during every rehearsal. Sivadier’s passion, and Dessay and Castronova’s voices are the only saving grace.
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Watch the trailer for Becoming Traviata here: