Toulouse-Lautrec and true love. Dmitry Bertman's 'La Traviata'

November 2, 2019

Giuseppe Verdi's 'La Traviata' premiered at the Helikon Opera on 22 October. The theatre’s producer and art director Dmitry Bertman has brought together a strong team: the merited artist of Russia Alexander Sladkovsky as a conductor, the merited artists of Russia Tatiana Tulubiyeva and Igor Nezhny who designed the sets and the costumes, and Shota Chibirov and Yulia Shcherbakova, the team's stars, playing Violetta and Alfredo’s parts.

The next performance will run on 5 and 6 November.

24-year-old love story

Night Paris of the late 19th century. Vagrants are loitering in the gloomy streets around the sky hiding beaux-arts style buildings. Wealthy men have fun in brothels. Somewhere in Montmartre, artists argue about art and drink absinthe. The courtesan Violetta Valéry breaks the routine of her life. She falls in love with a noble young man Alfredo, deeply and truly. But under the drama laws, happiness does not last long.

One of the most popular operas in the world takes the stage of the Helikon Opera for the second time. Dmitry Bertman stages it for the eighth time. He produced 'La Traviata' in this theatre in 1995. Later, he staged performances about Violetta Valéry in theatres of Germany, France, Canada and New Zealand.

The new version is not like any previous one. With the reinterpretation of the plot, the accents are slightly different: Alfredo's father in this version is more of a goodie than a villain who wants to separate two loving hearts.

While working with Verdi's most prominent opera, Bertman experimented a lot. In particular, the action of one of his 'Traviatas' moved to a nightclub of the 1990s. The new performance also features a time shift, but not so big — from the middle to the end of the 19th century, the heyday of impressionism.

For the first time, 'La Traviata' was staged in 1853, a year after the coronation of the last Emperor of France, Napoléon III, and struck the audience with the fact that the time of action coincided with the calendar one.


The Director admits that at one point, he thought that he would no longer stage 'La Traviata', although he received a plenty of offers.

‘But now that we're in this magnificent building, and we have such a huge repertoire, it's improper not to stage 'La Traviata' once again,' he admits.

The main thing in Verdi's music is simplicity

One of the basic events of 'La Traviata''s staging is Alexander Sladkovsky's consent to become its conductor and stage director. Merited artist of Russia, who made the State Symphony Orchestra of Tatarstan one of the best in the world, collaborates with Helikon Opera for the first time.


Sladkovsky believes that the most important thing in Verdi's music is its simplicity. The Italian style itself suggests light, dynamic and airy music.

'''La Traviata' is simple and understandable for any audience. Spectators are to feel the airiness and beauty of this opera. Everything that goes on stage is so graceful, elegant and beautiful that I cannot take my eyes off it,' he told.

Dmitry Bertman agrees with him, as Verdi is a special composer for him. 'Verdi is different, he composed various music, and it makes him really great. I would even suggest that he is Igor Krutoy of the 19th century,' says the Director.

'La Traviata' rehearsals lasted for a month. Alexander Sladkovsky is reasonably stern, and a very gifted person, according to the artists who have worked with him for the first time.

'He can be demanding, too, but he always comes up and explains what he wants and what you have to do to achieve it. He is a devotee immersed in his work that when something interferes with the routine, it makes him angry. But do not take it hard. He snaps at you, and after a minute gives you a pat on the back. I have worked with many conductors, and as for Alexander, I felt absolutely comfortable to collaborate with him,' said Shota Chibirov, who played Alfredo's part.

'I liked very much that he offered his interpretation, and I want to perform my part just like he wants it to be, with its tempo and energy. He gives powerful impulses before every performance, which is very inspiring. He is a true leader,' Yuliya Shcherbakova (Violetta) recalls their rehearsals.

A completely different 'La Traviata'

The atmosphere of Paris in the late 19th century was recreated by Tatiana Tulubiyeva and Igor Nezhny, who always work together. Their idea is that Violetta's room — neat and cosy at the beginning of the opera — turns into a shabby den at the end. Now the stage is a brothel somewhere in the city slums, now a chic bright house.

They have also worked on the clothes of the characters —provocative corsets and stockings, light dresses, elegant hats and formal suits, reminiscent of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's posters and paintings.


Gentle Violetta and narcissistic Alfredo

There are several line-ups performing 'La Traviata'. Tenor Shota Chibirov, frequent winner of international vocal competitions, is one of Alfredo's part performers. He says that it took him long to gain insight into the image of his character, to understand what guides him.

'I believe that Alfredo really fell in love with Violetta. But love and infatuation are different things. We don't know whether he loved her personality or his feelings for her. He is more like a narcissistic youngster who lost his favourite toy, which he enjoyed and which made him better,' the actor said.

Yuliya Shcherbakova (soprano), as Violetta, on the contrary, sympathises with her heroine and admires her.

'I love her very much. Violetta is a cheerful, spirited and energetic woman, while being very sensitive and tender. Remarkably, she loves her profession and is happy to work as a courtesan. But only when she meets her true love, Alfredo, her heart opens for real,' said the actress.

From failure to worldwide recognition

For the first time, 'La Traviata' by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi was staged in 1853 at La Fenice, Venice. It took only 40 days for maestro to compose music for the opera. Francesco Maria Piave wrote libretto based on the novel 'La Dame aux Camélias' by Alexandre Dumas (fils).

However, the audience did not like modern Paris depicted in the opera. They said it was immoral to feature a courtesan as the main character. The opera turned out to be a complete fail, followed by huge row. Verdi had to alter it in places, and only after that, a year later, it was eagerly accepted. Today, 'La Traviata' is the most popular opera in the world.


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