Tuesday March 19, 2019


By Diana Simmonds
April 20 2018


This week, it was catch-up time with Sofia Coppola’s 2016 production of La Traviata at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma’s but also at cinemas in Sydney and elsewhere around Australia. 

I don’t much like “live” filmed theatre and operas because they’re neither theatre nor film but somewhere in between - mostly losing the best aspects of both. Anyway, I adore La Traviata and was curious to see what La Coppola had done with it.

The set - by Nathan Crawley (who designed the recent Batman movies) - is a mess of mixed motifs: sort of Belle Epoque but with a vast marble staircase left over from an Astaire-Rogers danceathon of the 1930s. Three vast chandeliers fight with the staircase for the role of chief distractor.  

The production and the opera begins at Violetta’s as she descends the incongruous stairs, it continues to the countryside and the rented house where clouds scud by beyond the windows. Two of those windows are grubby, the rest are not and an empty bird cage stands symbolically in one corner (do I sound rapt by Verdi’s marvellous music?). 

Then Alfredo’s father visits and makes Violetta agree to sacrifice her love for the sake of the social status quo. Violetta returns to Paris, broke and broken hearted, to attend her pal’s party, there the chandeliers are again, in someone else’s ballroom. Did the friend snap them up in Violetta’s garage sale? Again: much to be distracted by.

The costumes are by Valentino, apparently, but in the gloom it doesn’t really matter.

Francesca Dotto is a pretty gorgeous Violetta, but I was mesmerised by how she is probably Cath Alcorn’s long lost twin sister. Extraordinary resemblance.


Antonio Poli as agonised lover Alfredo does a good job of impersonating a log of wood with a nice voice. The insistent close-ups reveal that he can’t stop looking at the conductor either on screen or in the pit and has no interest in Violetta. Unfortunate.

And what of Sofia Coppola’s direction? Traditional would be a polite way to describe it, cliched and unimaginative also fit. It sold out its 15 performances in Rome, but it would, wouldn’t it? 

So: Violetta looks fabulous, particularly in her red ballgown but the final scene in her bedroom is a mess of distractions, from her nightie’s puffed sleeves stuffed with roses (she’s dying, does she need to be that uncomfortable?), to the massive, tall bed that Alfredo can’t quite hook his bum on and therefore keeps sliding off as they try to sing of lost love regained and other exquisite sadnesses. 

Hard to tell about the sound and the orchestra – which sounded both tinny and sumptuous in the cinema. It did make me think, fondly of Opera Australia’s elderly current production which is visually coherent and still beautiful. And of Brian Thomson’s design for La Traviata on the Harbour which accomplished the extraordinary feat of being intimate on the biggest stage in the world; and of how utterly marvellous Emma Matthews has been in the role and what a great voice she has.

It’ll be a live life for me from now on: cinema live sucks. But Sofia Coppola in opera also sucks.



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