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Opera in the modern world: The lure of the old
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Opera in the modern world

The lure of the old

by E.H.B.

ANOTHER opera season, another predictable “La Traviata”? Far from it, says Sir Mark Elder, the music director of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, who is conducting Verdi’s perennial favourite at this year's Glyndebourne festival. Well-researched performances can bring freshness to the most familiar works, he suggests. “I tell the singers, ‘if you get this bar right, it will be a world premiere’.”

Given that the opera about the tragic love-life of the Parisian courtesan, Violetta Valéry, was performed 533 times around the world during the 2012-13 opera season, Glyndebourne's production will not exactly be a world premiere for either the performers or the audience. But re-examining the love story bar by bar, Sir Mark says, makes the performance “a journey of explorations" with "some fantastically exciting discoveries”.

The fact that Sir Mark has researched a wealth of sources, including a version of the score that only has Verdi's own dynamics and tempo markings, increases the likelihood of these discoveries. “Yet the danger with this being a popular piece", he says, "is that people have a preconceived notion of what it should sound like.” That danger includes singers who have performed the piece so often that they can virtually sing it in their sleep, and audiences who keep returning precisely because they know Violetta’s tale so well.

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