An Emotional Journey in COC’s La Traviata

All photos : Canadian Opera Company / Michael Cooper  

Contributor Andrew Wagner-Chazalon shares his review of the Canadian Opera Company’s stunning performance of La Traviata


How much would you sacrifice for a stranger? Would you give up your one true chance at happiness? That’s the dilemma confronting Violetta, the courtesan at the heart of Verdi’s beloved opera, La Traviata.

After a long absence from the stage, the Canadian Opera Company returned to in-person performances at last with a revival of this sumptuous production, directed by Arin Arbus.

Verdi’s opera caused a scandal when it was first performed, because it held up a mirror to Parisian society, pointing out the hypocrisy and cruelty of a world where courtesans were taken up and discarded by a patriarchal society. Arbus has chosen to keep the opera set in 19th century Paris, reasoning that the story and characters are, sadly, universal, and audiences are perfectly capable of seeing ourselves in them without needing to modernize the setting.


The COC’s La Traviata a Brilliant Success


This production succeeds brilliantly, thanks in part to some standout performances by the principals. This is not only beautifully sung, it’s extremely well-acted: we don’t just enjoy the music, we care deeply about the characters.

Any production of La Traviata rises or falls on the strength of the soprano singing the title role, and this production soars. Amina Edris makes a triumphant COC debut in a showcase role. Violetta demands tremendous versatility and nuance, and Edris delivers.


La TRaviata actor anda cress hugging on stage
Amina Edris as Violetta and Matthew Polenzani as Alfredo in the COC’s production of La Traviata (Photo: Michael Cooper)


When we first meet Violetta, she is the toast of Parisian society, hosting glorious balls and engaging in light verbal jousting with her guests. Edris’ singing is full of coloratura trills and vocal flights, but with hints of the sadness that Violetta knows is to come. Her vocal prowess then takes us through the character’s intense emotional journey, beautifully capturing every jolt and shock as Violetta sacrifices her hopes of happiness and winds up penniless and dying in an empty flat.


Palpable Joy… and Rage


Tenor Matthew Polenzani is wonderful in the role of Alfredo, Violetta’s lover who convinces her to give up her superficial life in Paris and seek true happiness and love with him in the country. His joy when they are together and his jealous rage when she leaves him are both palpable.

Simone Piazollo is delightful as Alfredo’s father, Giorgio. He is particularly impressive in the second act, where he convinces Violetta that she must forego Alfredo because their scandalous relationship will ruin the only chance for Alfredo’s younger sister to marry well. In the course of a single scene, Giorgio must transition from confronter to comforter, all while being relentless in convincing Violetta to make this sacrifice. Piazollo takes us along on this journey with style and power.

Canadian baritone Gregory Dahl gives a standout performance as Baron Duphol. There are also impressive showings by several members of the COC Ensemble Studio, notably Vartan Gabrielian as Dr. Grenvil (whose bass-baritone rumble is glorious in the finale in particular), as well as Jamie Groote and Midori Marsh.


Verdi’s Glorious Music


Cait O’Connor won awards for her costumes and puppetry when this production debuted, and it’s easy to see why, particularly when paired with Riccardo Hernandez’s rich set design. Marcus Doshi’s lighting is powerful and dramatic, casting evocative shadows that reveal the grotesqueries underlying the glamour of Parisian society.


La TRaviata full cast and balloons on stage
A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of
La Traviata (Photo: Michael Cooper)


The orchestra is conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus, who brings a masterful dynamic range to the ebbs and flows of Verdi’s glorious music.

La Traviata plays at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, and is running on select dates until May 20.




Contributing editor Andrew Wagner-Chazalon is a writer and editor with a passion for storytelling of all kinds. When in Muskoka, he celebrates the good things of life as editor and CEO of Dockside magazine.

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