DVD Movie Review: La Traviata (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Thom Compton 15.09.2017

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La Traviata (UK Rating: U)

In July, Sofia Coppola brought her opera debut, La Traviata, to the big screen, where she has found a good home for herself. This is a not a "based on" situation. This is a completely faithful stage presentation of the original opera by Giuseppe Verdi. Because of this, it's important to remember that the story has not been written by Coppola and, therefore, it's important to focus more on the presentation, although the story still needs to be considered.

For those who do not know much about this opera, it tells the story of Violetta, a young woman recovering from an illness who discovers that a young man, Alfredo, has loved her through her sickness, despite not being by her side. Instead, he has pined for her from afar, and in the opening moments of this three-act, four-scene opera, he admits this to be true to her. The story, while following their trials and tribulations as they grow as a couple, is not about Alfredo.  Violetta is the star, and it is her past and her present that drive the story more than anything.

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The film opens with patrons taking their seat, including Sofia's famous father, Francis Ford Coppola. The orchestra pit is tuning, and then the lights go out. By focusing on the audience, there is a humanisation that is built, by letting the viewer get to know the spectators. Also, it better frames the experience, as you watch a movie that is an opera, instead of just adapting the opera to film.

Francesca Dotto plays Violetta, and plays her sublimely. Between her absolutely insane range and her actual acting chops, she is as convincing as she is serene to watch. Several of the other actors, like Chiara Pieretti who plays servant Annina, and Roberto Frontali, who plays Alfredo's father Georgio, bring equally enjoyable performances, despite their limited screen time.

The only performance that feels even the slightest bit off is Antonio Poli's Alfredo. Antonio does a good job, has an exceptional voice, and has good command over his physical presence, with the exception of his facial expressions. For the first two scenes, he seems almost uncomfortable trying to emote. By the end, this is remedied, but it makes Alfredo a bit less likeable early on when he doesn't change his expression much, if at all.

The set design wobbles between feeling incredibly empty to feeling perfect. The first act, though, seems a bit crowded; it is a large party scene, after all, yet it doesn't feel like the actors have much room to really move around the stage. This is remedied later on, during another party scene in the second half of Act 2. This scene ends up being the best all around, as the story flows better, the performances are positively astounding, and the set feels incredibly real. The worst of the sets appears in the first scene of Act 2, oddly enough, and feels incredibly empty. You don't want the stage to feel overcrowded, but it feels like Violetta is sitting in a room waiting for the rest of the furniture to arrive.

The costuming here is absolutely perfect. Violetta manages to stand out in every scene, as the costume designer seems to be aiming to make the rest of the room fall into the backdrop. The aforementioned second party scene features her in an astounding dress that juxtaposes not only the bland tuxedo fest behind her, but also manages to also contrast with the chaos in her life with the seemingly simple existence of those other patrons.

Really, La Traviata takes a bit to get into. Act 1 doesn't really set the tone the remainder of the opera has very well, and feels a bit out of place. Also, even when the pacing does manage to catch up to itself, there's not much time left. The story ends quickly, and while there is time to really enjoy Violetta as a character, everyone else seems like background fodder so she isn't on stage alone. What's astounding is that while the story ends swiftly, the whole experience runs over two hours. Again, all Sofia Coppola did was adapt the opera, so she can't really be blamed for the short length. Still, it's a noticeable issue, and it drags the experience down as a whole.

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10
Sophia Coppola does a good job adapting La Traviata and while perhaps the source material doesn't come without its own share of issues, she manages to impress viewers with her commendable effort. Her adaptation only introduces a handful of issues of its own, and the overall experience is absolutely recommended to anyone who enjoys opera.

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