For someone whose knowledge of opera is limited to two Bugs Bunny vehicles—Long-Haired Hare and What’s Opera, Doc?—and whose grasp of Verdi begins and ends with 10,000 Maniacs’ “Verdi Cries,” director Philippe Béziat’s Becoming Traviata is the perfect entry point. This unfussy and beautifully shot documentary takes viewers on a journey as stage director Jean-François Sivadier, conductor Louis Langrée, soprano Natalie Dessay and the many other people necessary to stage an opera prepare Verdi’s “La traviata” for the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France in summer 2011.
There are no interviews, little talking to the camera and no bologna. We see Sivadier talk (and talk and talk and talk) about the performance with Dessay as she finds Violetta Valéry, and the picture bounces back and forth in time between a bare gray rehearsal space to the stage as sets are constructed, chandeliers put into place, and the orchestra made to understand that one can play an instrument piano while the feeling behind it is fortissimo. Watching Langrée work with the musicians is one of Becoming Traviata’s many charms.
Best of all about Becoming Traviata is its lack of pretension. These are people working to put on a great opera. No theater elbows required.