Becoming Traviata: hitting a bum note
On 10 October 1813, Giuseppe Verdi, the towering Romantic composer, was born in Northern Italy. Exactly 200 years later, Becoming Traviata, a fly-on-the-wall documentary chronicling the rehearsals of Verdi’s most famous opera was screened to a deserted theatre in Mayfair as part of the 57th London Film Festival, followed by an uninspiring Q&A with the film’s director, Philippe Béziat. It was hardly a fitting tribute, but then again neither is this film.
Becoming Traviata begins by focusing on the relationship between the opera’s director, Jean-François Sivadier, and superstar soprano Natalie Dessay as she prepares to take on the role of Violetta. Although there are moments of genuine insight, documenting the endless repetition it takes to truly perfect a scene becomes, well, repetitive, and at almost two hours long the film does test your patience. There are only a certain number of times you can watch an actress practice a death scene in one sitting.
Strangely, the audience never gets to see any of the finished product. By peering behind the curtain, Becoming La Traviata strips what was most probably a fantastic production of any of its majesty. Of course, the opera is famous for being Verdi’s first foray into depicting empathetic characters and the film aims to explore the process that brings these characters to life. Nevertheless, it ends up being as joyless as having a grandiose illusion laboriously explained to you by a magician, only never to see the trick in action.