A kiss in the dreamhouse

May 7 2013 | By More

Edinburgh Grand Opera stage Verdi’s La traviata

Another Kiss - Ralph Strael and Rachael Brimley with Rodin's The Kiss - promoting Edinburgh Grand Opera's produciton of La traviata. Photo © Thom Dibdin

Another Kiss – Ralph Strael and Rachael Brimley with Rodin’s The Kiss – promoting Edinburgh Grand Opera’s  La traviata. Photo © Thom Dibdin

By Thom Dibdin

If tragic love is what you want, it doesn’t come much more tragic than La traviata, Verdi’s opera about the courtesan Violetta and Alfredo, the young man she loves but has to give up.

The most performed opera in the popular canon, it is being brought to the Edinburgh King’s this week by Edinburgh Grand Opera for four consecutive nights, in a double-cast production. The pro-am company uses young professional singers for the named parts with a chorus made up of local amateur singers.

The Annals spoke to director Christina Dunwoodie and conductor Richard Lewis at the National Gallery of Scotland on the Mound where Glasgow-based Soprano Rachael Brimley  and German tenor Ralph Strehle were getting into the mood in front of Rodin’s famous sculpture.

“This is very much a woman’s story,” says Dunwoodie. “It is based on a true story of a woman in Paris called Marie Duplessis. She was mistress of Alexandre Dumas, the younger, and he wrote a book about her, which he then converted to a play.”

The novel and play was La dame aux Camélias, and Duplessis was the most famous courtesan in Paris at the time. She had arrived in the city an illiterate seamstress at the age of 15 but by the time of her death of consumption at the age of 23, anyone who was anyone who visited the city had to visit her salon.

“Verdi was very attracted to the story,” Dunwoodie continues. “He lived with soprano Giuseppina Strepponi, out of wedlock, and she was very much ostracised because of that. At that time a woman could only make her fortune, really, by becoming a courtesan and live in the upper echelons being funded by some rich baron, as in La traviata.”

Dunwoodie has twice sung the central role of Violetta, the courtesan and “fallen woman” of the title. She is now directing her fourth production for EGO including last year’s Carmen at the Lyceum and Don Giovani at the Queen’s Hall in February.

An intimate story
The Set Up: Christina Dunwoodie (right) directs  Rachael Brimley and Ralph Strael with Rodin's The Kiss - promoting Edinburgh Grand Opera's produciton of La traviata. Photo © Thom Dibdin

The Set Up: Christina Dunwoodie (right) directs Rachael Brimley and Ralph Strael with Rodin’s The Kiss – promoting Edinburgh Grand Opera’s produciton of La traviata. Photo © Thom Dibdin

“The King’s stage is perfect for La traviata,” says Dunwoodie. “This is an intimate story: it happens in Paris salons or in the countryside in a small house. It is lovely for the audience to be closer to it. With lack of funds we have had to be very creative with the set, but our designer has done some fantastic things with drapes to suggest spaces – and of course furniture and props.”

Richard Lewis has conducted many times at the Festival Theatre, but this is his first time at the King’s. And although he points out the theatre’s disadvantages in terms of wing space, he agrees that it is is ideal for La traviata.

“It has the advantage of being closer to the stage,” he says. “It is a bit more intimate, particularly for a chamber opera, which La traviata is, in essence. It is much better to be closer to the action. The Festival Theatre works best for the larger scale works, the Wagners and the bigger Verdis, and also all bits of musical theatre requiring lots more wing space.

“The advantage of La traviata is that it is on that small scale. So it suits the theatre nicely, I think. We are very lucky in Edinburgh to have such a choice of theatres!”

Which is something Lewis knows about, as Culture and Leisure convenor of the city council, although the day job doesn’t leave him a great amount of time to study the opera itself. Fortunately it is one he is very familiar with.

“One of the reasons I have decided to take this on at the moment, and it is a considerable undertaking, was that it is a show that I have done four productions of. It was the first show I played on as a young repetiteur but I have never conducted it. It is a piece I know very well, and I am finally going to take control of the baton.”

Edinburgh Grand Opera present La traviata, Wed 8 – Sat 11 May 2013
Edinburgh King’s Theatre, Leven Street. Tickets from 0131 529 6000
Full details and online ticketing from www.edtheatres.com


Rachael Brimley 8th 10th
Susan McNaught 9th 11th

Oscar de la Torre 8th 10th
Ralph Strehle 9th 11th

Ivor Klayman 8th 10th
Rhys Jenkins 9th 11th

Taylor Wilson 8th 10th
Debora Ruiz Kordova 9th 11th

Sarah Buckley 8th 10th
Angela Estrada 9th 11th

Cailean Swainson

David O’Hanlon

Richard Mein 8th 9th 10th
Ian Paterson 11th

Benjamin Ellis


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  1. Review – La traviata | Æ Annals of Edinburgh Stage | May 9 2013
  1. Catherine Weir says:

    3 of us went to see La Traviata on Wednesday night and thoroughly enjoyed the whole production. I agree that it works better in a smaller theatre. I have seen it so many times all over Europe and was so impressed by this performance. Congratulations and thanks.