By Dirk Sonniksen | May 15, 2013
Director: Philippe Béziat
Director Philippe Béziat brings La Traviata to the screen with Jean-François Sivadier’s Aix-en-Provence production, broken down to its essence, with an intimate portrait of the fiery soprano Natalie Dessay. There are no elaborate sets here, no ornate costuming, powdered faces or lipstick, with the beauty of Becoming Traviata resting in Béziat’s ability to lay bare the creative process while preserving the emotive power of Dessay’s magnificent voice, as well as the story of Verdi’s classic nineteenth century opera.
Becoming Traviata is a beautiful documentary that begins with shots of an outdoor theater, the gathering of patrons, a rainy day, and stage craftsmen at work. We move inside, greeted by a stark studio that will soon come to life with the voice of Ms. Dessay as Violetta, our doomed courtesan. Dessay’s frenetic movements cause dizziness, her voice creating a heightened emotional state that leaves one in a joyful paralysis of sorts. These bursts are interspersed with Jean-François Sivadier and Natalie Dessay’s playful banter, with Sivadier getting so engrossed in his direction that one wonders if he’ll topple off the stage.
There is no relentless pace in Becoming Traviata, but there is a forward momentum created by Natalie Dessay, tenor Chalres Castronovo, and the ebb and flow of the orchestra led by Louis Langrée. Langrée is not adverse to giving his direction as well, with Ms. Dessay at times being pulled to and fro by Sivadier and our French conductor. But the onslaught of stage direction cannot slow Dessay, and she only becomes more determined as the film progresses.
Becoming Traviata is an excellent case study in stage production and should be required viewing for any students of the craft. While it may not appeal to everyone, it will certainly give opera fans something to talk about, and musicians in general will find the performances stellar. Opera is an art that seems to elude many, but Becoming Traviata is a film that could dissolve any preconceived notions, and make a wonderful experience more accessible.