La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi: Live broadcast by Italian RAI-TV    

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He last set up of Maestro Franco Zeffirelli, creator of dreams, inaugurated the 97th opera festival 2019 in a tribute of the Arena di Verona in the presence of Sergio Mattarealla, President of the Italian Republic.

The blockbuster exhibition was among the most ambitious ever made by the Veronese laboratories and crowns the dream of the Florentine Master after 60 years of work on Verdi’s masterpiece.

Daniel Oren, Music Director of the 97th Festival, took the podium at the helm of the Arena Orchestra and Chorus and a cast of international stars on Friday, June 21 for 11 evenings, with a special event to come on  August 1 with Oropesa, Grigolo, and Domingo top protagonists.

The new production of the most famous and loved operas in the world bears the signature of the great Franco Zeffirelli for direction and scenes, by Maurizio Millenotti for costumes, and of the étoile Giuseppe Picone for the choreography.

Franco Zeffirelli had always known La Traviata and perhaps better than anyone. His baptism with the work par excellence took place in Dallas in 1958, with none other than Maria Callas in the role of Violetta Valéry: now as then the brilliant intuition of the Florentine Master is to rotate the dramaturgy around the protagonist from the beginning, a woman shown in all her frailty on her deathbed (with the disease well described by Verdi’s music).

Then Violetta revives and as if by magic she returns to that party where she meets Alfredo for the first time among lights, colors, and toasts, and the public getting passionate, falling in love, crying with her until the cathartic ending, grandiose yet so human.

Since then, Zeffirelli has developed his own idea of the work on other occasions with the most important interpreters of the twentieth century but never in Verona, where his definitive reading on the crown of a long considered and desired project since 2008, the fruit of over a year of work conducted with the most trusted collaborators and assistants for the Arena.

The great Florentine master, whose previous productions are still part of the Arena repertoire, has already been the “creator of dreams” par excellence in the Arena since 1995 with the operas: Carmen, Il Trovatore, Aida, Madama Butterfly, Turandot, and Don Giovanni, bringing a dimension of spectacular cinema in the theatre as well as enriching the theatrical intensity of cinema through love and long, glorious experience in the prose and opera.

The high professionalism from the stage technicians to the protagonists of every creative group sector

The artists, the management, and all the workers of the Festival are united in the tribute to Franco Zeffirelli a few days after his demise.

An ambitious scene reveals a huge “scenic box” on several levels, hidden and shown to the public by the movements of a colossal curtain, a new solution for amphitheater spaces, which tests the skills of the Arena Technicians.

The costumes for this production are by a historic collaborator, the award-winning Maurizio Millenotti, who won the David di Donatello several times and was nominated for an Oscar for Hamlet and Otello, both immortal Zeffirelli’s films.

The lights are created by Paolo Mazzon from Arezzo and the choreographies by Giuseppe Picone, international étoile and director of the Corps de Ballet of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, as well as a popular TV face, who returns to the Arena exceptionally also as first dancer for 4 performances.

For the make-up of the new Traviata, the creative team relies on the important collaboration of Michele Magnani, Global Senior Artist of MAC Cosmetics, who designed the make-up of the main characters.

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The exclusive selection of the cast was completed by the artistic director C. Gasdia

To give life to the protagonist Violetta Valéry is a quartet of great voices and great stage presences, absolutely necessary for a stage that, better than any other, knows how to exalt the new generation of interpreters of the Opera, so attentive to acting and close to cinematic imagery: the Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, a fine musician as well as a very popular singer from the best theatres in the world; the American Lisette Oropesa, a true star of the last Rossini festival in Pesaro; the Croatian Lana Kos, closely linked to the Arena stage where she debuted in 2011 with La Traviata by Hugo de Ana; and the Russian Irina Lungu, often applauded by the international public of Verona.

The protagonists of La Traviata are established interpreters all over the world, between expected debuts and extraordinary returns: like Alfredo they make their debut at the Arena di Verona Pavel Petrov, then Raffaele Abete and finally Stephen Costello. As a Germont father, he exceptionally returns for the first performances, Leo Nucci, which is followed by three other young and authoritative Verdi voices: Simone Piazzola, Amartuvshin Enkhbat, and Badral Chuluunbaatar.

For the single performance on August 1, alongside Lisette Oropesa, Vittorio Grigolo treads the sandstone stage and for the first time as Giorgio Germont Plácido Domingo, in the week in which it celebrates 50 years since its debut in the Arena and in Italy, as well as the first historic meeting with Franco Zeffirelli, which took place at La Scala in 1969.

Daniel Oren, Music Director of the 2019 Festival, leads the Verona Arena Orchestra and the Choir instructed by Vito Lombardi. With him, the Veronese master, Andrea Battistoni, alternates on the podium for two performances (July 11 and 19) and Marco Armiliato for the special evening of August 1.

The Mayor and President of the Federico Sboarina Arena Foundation declared: “The season that is about to debut with La Traviata presents a high artistic level both in the cast and in the productions. The raising of quality, which was our first objective, is now recognized by us all over and it is, therefore, a great joy for me to present the inaugural work, which also takes on the great commemorative value of Master Zeffirelli. The growth of the Festival is testified this year also by the numerous institutional presences to the first, one above all that of the president S. Mattarella, that confirm the recovered prestige of our Arena Foundation.”

…on the memories lane

Cecilia Gasdia, Superintendent and Artistic Director of the Arena Foundation, remembers with pride and emotion the first meeting with Zeffirelli, which took place precisely for La Traviata in which she debuted in Florence in 1984 with Carlos Kleiber: “He believed in me when I was little more than a young girl, as in so many young people. The magic that he was able to create then will be renewed on our immense stage, aim long dreamed of for this production.

“Franco Zeffirelli is an undisputed master of the Opera and his Traviata is a masterpiece of musical theater that we have achieved to the fullest. Now it is for all intents and purposes: with this production we want to pay homage to him for everything he has given to the world and the Arena in particular.”

A heartfelt personal and professional memory is also that of Daniel Oren, Music Director of the 2019 Festival, and on the podium for La Traviata: “Franco and I loved working together; at the time he always told me that I was his ‘favorite’ director. Between us there was a strong friendship, and a particular artistic feeling: my way of making music and his way of conceiving it on stage were in total symbiosis.

“I learned from him so many secrets of the theatre in each of his actions a sensibility out of the ordinary and a boundless culture transpired. The Master leaves an unbridgeable gap in the world of theatre and in my heart. I will always remember it thanks to the music that united us from the beginning.

“A special thanks to all the sponsors of the Arena di Verona Opera Festival who with their precious and inevitable contribution support of the mission of the Arena Foundation and its prestigious Festival.”


Sketches: 2019 Arena di Verona, La Traviata, sketches by Maurizio Millenotti – © Arena di Verona Foundation