Discover the glories of opera with La Traviata in Southampton

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One of the great classics of the opera world might just be your perfect introduction to opera when Welsh National Opera bring Verdi’s La Traviata to Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre (Friday to Saturday, November 24-25).

As Alexander Joel, who will conduct the night, says, why more people don't come to opera is the $1m question. As he says, La Traviata would certainly be your perfect starting point if you are not already an opera aficionado – a heart-wrenching tale of thwarted love, scandal and self-sacrifice.

“It has got fantastic music obviously and there are some really familiar melodies in there but it has also got a fantastic story. It is one of the most loved operas in the world. It's part of the ABC of operas and it is so easily accessible. It really is, especially for people who don't go to the opera already.” And an added bonus for those who are tempted is the fact, as Alexander points out, La Traviata featured in the Julia Roberts and Richard Gere film Pretty Woman: “Anything helps!”

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In the opera, always the belle of the ball, Violetta, the most elegant courtesan in all of Paris, has her choice of wealthy admirers falling at her feet. She lives for the glamorous lifestyle of high society, but when she finds herself deeply in love with the penniless aristocratic poet Alfredo, she is willing to give everything up for him. Can she be accepted just as a woman who has fallen in love or is she to remain a ‘fallen woman’ whose love has no future? Based on Alexandre Dumas fils’s novel, La Dame aux Camélias, Verdi’s opera features some of opera’s most evocative arias and melodies including the Brindisi (the drinking song) and the poignant finale, Addio del passato.

La Traviata (contributed pic)La Traviata (contributed pic)
La Traviata (contributed pic)

“I think opera is slowly recovering after the pandemic but in times of high inflation with people able to afford less it certainly doesn't help. And in general I think the arts are struggling to get back. I was reading that especially in the German-speaking countries the lyric drama is struggling in particular. But I suppose the answer with opera has got to lie in education but the trouble is you don't get people going to the opera when they're young any more and so when you get just the older people going along then people start thinking that it is an elitist art form which it is not at all. Obviously you have to start with the right thing. You need to be starting with classic Italian opera and I think the fact is that if people do come along then they really enjoy it and they want to come back. So it's a question of accessibility and I think there has to be more emphasis on education just to make sure we get people in. But definitely everyone is trying everything they can. But it's different in different parts of the world. I work a lot in Vienna and music is very important in society there. If they wanted to defund an opera house or an orchestra there would be outrage and I think that's part of what makes it unique there.”

As for Alexander: “I first did La Traviata in 1998 and I've done it at least 130 times since but it is always a different experience because it's always in different places and different casts and in f ac t I'm doing it three ti mes in one year next year.”