Becoming Traviata

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Axiom Films
ALBUM TITLE: Becoming Traviata
WORKS: A film by Philippe Béziat
PERFORMER: Natalie Dessay, Jean-François Sivadier, Louis Langrée


Verdi’s fallen woman falls and falls again in this dreamlike documentary by Philippe Béziat, first into the arms of her lover, then into oblivion. Released in France as Traviata et nous, the film is translated as Becoming Traviata for the Anglophone market. Both titles work, for in documenting the rehearsals for Jean-François Sivadier’s 2011 staging of La traviata from piano sessions to sitzprobe (‘seated rehearsal’ with singers and orchestra) and dress rehearsal, the film is as much about how our relationship to this most famous opera changes with each encounter as it is about the process by which soprano Natalie Dessay assumes the central role in this production (also filmed complete by Béziat and released in 2012 on Virgin/Erato).

Traviata novices should probably watch the DVD of the performance first. Béziat’s documentary moves through the opera in order, but sound and visuals from across weeks of preparation are intercut and superimposed. The placing of a single phrase (‘E strano’), glance or touch is worked on at length, in great detail. We see Dessay and Charles Castronovo repeat Act II’s terrible confrontation while conductor Louis Langrée rehearses the lower strings (‘Be nasty!’). There’s a charming interview with the répétiteur, pensive shots of paintbrushes and steam irons, ambient sounds of birds. Some will accuse Béziat of pretention; but I’ve yet to see a film that better conveys the extraordinary collective discipline and attentiveness behind a great performance. 


Anna Picard