Becoming Traviata

Here’s your chance to look behind the scenes of the 2011 Aix-en-Provence Festival production of Verdi’s La traviata. Not tops on the agenda? Have a go anyway. What director Philippe Béziat’s loose-limbed approach lacks in documentary rigor it makes up for in contagious affinity for this opera in particular, and creative collaboration in general. The film foregoes official introductions and other expository concerns, but as conductor Louis Langrée convincingly explains to his orchestra in one scene, information per se is less important here than the communication of passionate feeling. (Representative lyric: “Let’s drink to the shiver of delight that love ignites in us.”) Of the essence is a positively charged rapport between stage director Jean-François Sivadier and star soprano Natalie Dessay, who’s such an authentic performer that she’s even a riveting rehearser. Great moments occur in an otherwise banal backstage room, where Dessay can be glimpsed internalizing Sivadier’s down-to-earth direction and figuring out how she’ll apply it. Indulging the cinematic privileges of cutting and close-ups, Béziat also occasionally lets in situ dialogue go mum so music may wash over whatever visuals are at hand. This shows a reasonable instinct to translate stage-bound material into the language of the film medium, but sometimes it also seems like simply a lack of imagination. Anyway, the material soars on its own. Non-initiates may be left wondering about the opera’s plot but hard-pressed to get its ebullient melodies out of their heads.