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Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ opera classic re-imagined at Boston Lyric Opera

Giuseppe Verdi’s “La traviata” is one of the most performed operas in the world, yet it hasn’t appeared on a Boston Lyric Opera stage for more than a decade.

That is, until this October, when the renowned company will stage a production of the classic work, interpreted by some of the country’s rising stars of opera. Five performances will take place from October 10 to 19 at the Shubert Theatre, which will be transformed into the world of Violetta, a French courtesan who risks everything for true love.

Not only will patrons enjoy one of the greatest operas of all time, but they will also be able to see it in a new light. As Associate Producer Julia Noulin-Mérat explains, BLO opted to develop a totally new production rather than use recycled costumes and set pieces, as is common today.

“The standard is very high,” explains Noulin-Mérat, who also designed the set. “Boston Lyric is really trying to give the audience the best experience with the best singers. Especially in this economy, to have a company that is that dedicated to the arts is very special.”

With its unique set design, BLO’s production aims to strike a balance between staying true to Verdi and providing a fresh take on the classic story. The time period remains the same – it takes place in the late 1800s as the great composer intended – but the set, which plays with scale and perspective, is quite whimsical.

“In terms of scenery, we really wanted to create this kind of feeling where the world is so much bigger than Violetta,” Noulin-Mérat says, explaining that some of the props and set pieces are super-sized while others have been scaled down. “We wanted to make her look like she was drowning.”

Anya Matanovic (photo by Arielle Doneson, courtesy anyamatanovic.com

Anya Matanovic (photo by Arielle Doneson, courtesy anyamatanovic.com)

The final set design was a collaborative effort, much like other aspects of the production, according to Noulin-Mérat and leading lady Anya Matanovic, who is making her debut both with BLO and in the role of Violetta.

Speaking several weeks prior to beginning rehearsals in mid-September, Matanovic expresses her excitement about joining forces with director Chas Rader-Shieber to “craft a Violetta that feels truthful and honest.”

“That’s what I’ve found the most rewarding,” explains Matanovic, who has performed in dozens of productions across the country. “When I can work together with a director and the other cast members and we can just shed whatever expectations we had coming into it, we can create something that’s really authentic to this group of people, for this particular production and this moment in time – which will never be the same.”

And shedding expectations has certainly been a big part of Matanovic’s work as she prepares to step into the shoes of one of opera’s most famous heroines.

“Of course I grew up hearing the famous arias with every soprano doing them, but I’m trying to approach it as if I’d never heard them before,” she says.

Matanovic hopes to capture the beauty and intelligence of Violetta while also conveying the sense of fear that drives her character. The ultimate goal is to “find the Violetta that resonates” with Matanovic so that in turn it will resonate with the audience, whether they’re long-time opera fans or new to the art form.

“They can come in, let the music wash over them and let themselves – hopefully – be moved for an evening,” Matanovic says.

She adds, “It’s a beautiful thing to step into an opera house. In that moment everyone makes this agreement: we are going to put away our cell phones and our books; we’re going to let the worries and thoughts of the day disappear; and we’re going to enter into this new world all together.”

About Briana Palma

Briana Palma is a writer and editor who splits her time between Boston and Dublin, Ireland. Her work focuses on travel, art and lifestyle, and as an Italian-American, she especially enjoys writing about all things Italy. Briana's work has appeared in a number of print and digital publications, including Italy Magazine, the Sunday Business Post Magazine, Outsider and U.S. Airways. For more information, visit www.brianapalma.com.