Opera Scotland

La Traviata in Scotland

Posted 2 Mar 2024

La traviata received its first Scottish performance in Glasgow at the old Dunlop Street Theatre Royal on 20 February 1857. The Grand Italian Opera Company moved to Edinburgh the following week. This was only a few months after the British premiere.

The performances aroused great controversy, with church sermons widely advertised against ''The Immoralities of the Italian Opera.'' The notoriety seems to have been useful. The ''Popular Amusements'' column of the Glasgow Herald reports ''crowded and highly delighted audiences.'' Further performances followed in September, when the Edinburgh Evening Courant reported: ''Notwithstanding the grave questions that have been raised about the work, notwithstanding that the town is said to be 'empty', and notwithstanding a night of lashing rain, we never saw a more brilliant or crowded house. The boxes, upper boxes, and stalls presented a most fashionable array, not a single vacancy breaking the lines of the gay and animated circle.

The cast at the February performances was led by the beautiful young Spanish soprano Josefa Gassier (née Fernández) as Violetta. Alfredo and Germont were Signori Volpini and Lorini. In September Violetta was Marietta Piccolomini, a star soprano who had sung at the London premiere.

Despite this enthusiastic popular reception, the opera took a while to catch on. The Carl Rosa company waited until 1890 before they gave it in English, and performances by them and the O'Mara Opera remained infrequent until the Second World War. It was then Sadler's Wells Opera who championed it, with leading sopranos including Joan Hammond in the company.


Through the 1950s Sadler's Wells toured to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, with a staging by Joan Cross,  frequently conducted by young Alexander Gibson. Notable Scottish singers appeared with the company at this time - tenor William McAlpine and basses David Ward and Harold Blackburn (both as the Doctor). Violettas included Victoria Elliott and Elizabeth Fretwell, with Peter Glossop as Germont. By the sixties the company's new production by Frank Hauser included Elizabeth Fretwell and Ava June (Violetta), Alberto Remedios (Alfredo) with Raimund Herincx (Germont). The great New Zealand Wagnerian Sir Donald McIntyre made an early appearance as Baron Douphol. Most of these artists made an important contribution to the early years of Scottish Opera.

In the post-War years the Covent Garden Opera toured every year, singing in English. In 1950 they brought to the Edinburgh Empire (now the Festival Theatre) a staging of La traviata directed by Tyrone Guthrie and conducted by Reginald Goodall. Violetta and Alfredo were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Rudolf Schock, with John Cameron as Germont.


The Edinburgh International Festival has only presented the opera once, in 1979, when Kent Opera brought Jonathan Miller's production. The conductor was Roger Norrington, with Jill Gomez, Keith Lewis and Thomas Hemsley. The Glyndebourne Tour also brought it to Edinburgh in 2003 when a revival of Sir Peter Hall's staging featured Majella Cullagh, Edgaras Montvidas and William Kempster, conducted by Richard Farnes.


Scottish Opera have mounted it four times in main stage productions. The first one opened in 1970, conducted by James Loughran and directed by Ian Watt-Smith. For the first run Clarice Carson was Violetta, Franco Bonisolli Alfredo and Ronald Morrison Germont. Flora was Patricia Hay, with Australian Bruce Martin making a brief visit as the Doctor. The 1973/4 revival saw Ursula Koszut as Violetta, with Robert Tear and Canadian Ermanno Mauro as Alfredo. Germont was taken by the star Italian baritone Sesto Bruscantini, best known for his comic roles at Glyndebourne. Another young Australian, Malcolm Donnelly, appeared as the Baron.

The company's second staging in 1981 was directed by David William, with Alexander Gibson working on this opera for the first time in over twenty years. There was a notable British debut by the young Romanian soprano Nelly Miricioiu, with two developing company regulars, Dennis O'Neill and Malcolm Donnelly, taking on major roles before their international breakthroughs.

The third production was a lavish version by the star Spanish actor/director Nuria Espert, with spectacular designs by Ezio Frigerio. This was revived frequently between its opening in 1989 and 2001. The first run was conducted by John Mauceri, with revivals led by Takuo Yuasa and Richard Armstrong. The Violettas were Nancy Gustafson, Anne Williams-King and Claire Rutter. Alfredo was sung by Jorge Pita, Marek Torzewski, Paul Charles Clarke and Nikolai Schukoff, while baritones included James Dietsch, Jason Howard, Jonathan Summers, Richard Zeller and Andrzej Dobber.

The present staging, by Sir David McVicar, opened in 2008, with Carmen Giannattasio, Federico Lepre and Richard Zeller.  Emanuel Joel-Hornak conducted.  This production was revived in 2017, conducted by David Parry.  Gulnara Shafigullina and Anush Hovhannisyan both sang Violetta, with Peter Gijsbertsen as Alfredo.  Giorgio was Stephen Gadd,  Laura Zigmantaite was Flora, with Simon Thorpe and Alex Otterburn as Baron and Marquis respectively.


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