Traviata - The making of...

So...the cat is out of the bag.

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Over the past 5 months I have been working on a new adaptation of La Traviata.  Not only that, but after some intense auditioning I also won the part of Violetta - courtesan or rather, strip club beauty, in this new, highly charged, politically and sexually, version.

Creating an adaptation of any opera is a fine balancing act, and the only way to keep all the plates spinning is to start and end every decision with the core of the original story.

La Traviata is essentially a tale of perceived class difference and hypocrisy.  Violetta is acceptable as an object of desire, and a part of the economy of lust, supporting wealthy older men as both an accessory and status symbol.  However, as a legitimate love interest, a woman with needs an desires of her own - she is a dangerous upper-class infiltrator.  

Keeping this core idea, what problems does La Traviata present if we transfer it to a modern day setting?  If Violetta is a stripper, serving the richest and most influential men in contemporary society, which elements of the story seem outdated and unworkable? 

The biggest issue for me was 'the 'daughter'.  The idea that Germont's daughter's marriage might be at risk due to his son's dalliances seems too dated and unlikely, but also not 'big' enough.  If a modern day man refuses to marry a woman on account of her family one might suggest that he isn't worth marrying in the first place...  So what can we replace her with? What is so dangerous about Alfredo and Violetta's liaison?

The answer seemed obvious.  In a world with a 24 hour news cycle, the danger is not the daughter's, but the father's.  Germont's own career is on the line if the trail from Violetta leads back to him.  A fitting idea is Germont is a politician as this just highlights his hypocrisy - people like Violetta are exactly the people he should be helping out of poverty and dependence; and he's happy to, but not if his son's standing and, more importantly, his own career are at stake.

There was another niggle for me.  Researching for a lecture on Donizetti's heroines, I had come across the following quotation of Caroline Crampton of The New Statesman: "In many 19th-century operas, terrible things happen to a woman, she sings about them, and then dies. Sometimes, for a bit of variety, she will go mad prior to expiring in a grisly fashion. At the end, the principal male characters – who are likely all responsible in some way for her demise – will stand around her body and sing about what a tragedy it all is." 

The idea of bringing Alfredo and Germont back into the opera as Violetta dies, in order that the audience might forgive them, just seemed so wrong.  I didn't want them to be forgiven - either by Violetta or the audience.  I wanted the audience to be outraged and Violetta to die angry.  Anger is sometimes what changes things.

Now it was time to start work.  Creating an idiomatic libretto that rhymes and is totally singable is no small task.  There would be a lot of scenes like this ahead of me:

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The libretto will be revealed on September 27th (and no more spoilers), but it was a big journey to turn Verdi's opera into a four-hander.  A lot of cutting, rewriting and imagination later and we had this (excuse the added surname - printing error!) :

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