How have you immersed yourself in the story, the music, and the backstory of La traviata?
I started working on it about a year ago. It was fascinating to read both the Dumas fils novel and his play, to see what Verdi and his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, were working from and to make note of the things they changed. I also read about Marie Duplessis, the courtesan Dumas fils fell in love with, who was the inspiration for his novel.
Because the opera rests so deeply upon 19th-century bourgeois concepts of morality, it has been important for me to gain an understanding of the values of the world that Verdi is depicting, and to understand the life and trade of a Parisian courtesan of the time. There really isn’t an equivalent in our world – certainly it’s very different from our contemporary understanding of prostitution. I actually think that’s one of the aspects of the opera that is most challenging to convey to contemporary audiences. But it’s crucial – Violetta’s shame and her precarious financial situation are at the crux of the dramaturgy.
All the history and backstory goes into the stew of my imagination, but ultimately one has to simply focus on the opera itself. The music reveals the story in an incredibly specific way, and that is of the greatest interest.
What draws you to this opera?
The music. The story, which depicts a beautiful love destroyed by a petty and cruel world. I love the intimacy and the intensity of the piece, the tragedy of it, the poetry within the music, the ways the melodies are woven through, the passion expressed by the characters. And I love Violetta’s fierce thirst for life in the face of death, her self-loathing, her loneliness, the wild parties.
How do you keep the opera’s timeliness/timelessness without transposing it into a current setting?
For me, it’s not the setting that makes something relevant to an audience. I have seen many plays, operas, and films that were set in our contemporary world that had little relevance or power, just as I have seen many period pieces that speak to me directly and feel of the moment – and vice versa. The setting is not the determinant, it’s just the surface. It’s the immediacy and truth of the characters, their situations, the imagery, language, music, ideas, themes, and passions that make a piece timely and profound.
In this case, we’re setting La traviata around the time that Verdi wrote the opera, as it was originally conceived, because the circumstances surrounding Violetta are incredibly specific. To move it out of that time, I feel, would change or lower the stakes.
What intrigues, moves, and/or frustrates you about the three central characters?
Violetta is a successful courtesan, a girl who is dying. She is lonely, sad, theatrical, practical, passionate, so filled with longing. She knows how to throw a great party.
One of the big questions is: why does Violetta agree to break it off with Alfredo? Why does Germont get to her? It’s one of the mysteries of the piece. I think she believes that a courtesan, a fallen woman, doesn’t get to fall in love. She cannot escape her past. She knows better than to fall in love, but does it anyway. She sacrifices her one shot at love and happiness because she believes she doesn’t deserve it. She has digested the values of her world and has come to believe that they are correct. That’s what destroys her.
Alfredo comes from a sheltered, conventional, bourgeois world. He is adventurous. He comes to Paris and is knocked out by this remarkable woman – he’s never met anyone like her. He loves, despite the expectations of his family and the world. How brave! He is naïve, impulsive, inexperienced, has a temper, is a rebel. The thing that frustrates me about him is his foolishness when it comes to money. I don’t understand why it doesn’t occur to him that Violetta is paying their way in the country.
Germont is a sinister figure in the opera, but he’s actually a very ordinary, familiar, bourgeois family man. That’s what makes him so dangerous – he thinks he knows what’s best. He represents the moral conventions of 19th-century Paris and probably 19th-century Italy. Surprisingly, he comes to love Violetta.
How do you envision the chorus’s role?
In a certain sense La traviata is a story about profane love – a love that is a kind of rebellion against the world. Germont reveals the values of the world Alfredo rebels against, while the chorus reveals the world from which Violetta tries to escape. Her life as a courtesan is one of excess, debauchery, empty pleasure, superficiality, and disease. The chorus must convey this.
What are the inspirations for the visual world you’re creating with your collaborators?
Here are some images that come to mind: a frail girl putting on a big dress, brightly colored damask wallpaper, a man in a woman’s wig, bull heads, skeletons, Spanish lace, iridescent bird wings, colored paper lanterns, dancing shadows, Ingmar Bergman’s figures on the horizon from The Seventh Seal, sunlight breaking through the trees, pastel colored cakes, carnival parades, 19th-century Parisian interiors, daguerreotypes, white plaster walls, confetti….
Interview by Magda Krance. Edited by Lyric dramaturg Roger Pines
Extravagant gowns, outlandish coiffures, party scenes infused with oversized bulls’ heads, skeletons, Spanish lace, iridescent wings, and colored paper lanterns.
What’s it like to be the most beautiful, most desired young woman who throws the wildest parties in all of Paris – and to be losing your life just as true love finally finds you? Welcome to the glittering, dark, hope-filled, doomed world of the Parisian demimonde, where the romantic tragedy of Verdi’s La Traviata takes place.
Violetta, an ailing courtesan is redeemed by love when she learns of Alfredo’s adoration for her. Violetta hesitantly abandons a life of revelry to live with her lover, and the two are blissfully happy. But Alfredo’s father warns Violetta that her scandalous past threatens his son’s future and asks her to abandon her lover. A tormented Violetta agrees to return to her old ways, leaving Alfredo furious at her apparent betrayal. Overcome with grief, Violetta falls mortally ill, and Alfredo’s father, taking pity on her, informs his son of her sacrifice. Alfredo rushes to Violetta’s side, arriving in time for a rapturous deathbed duet.
Costume designer Cait O’Connor’s gorgeous sketch of Violetta in Act 1, and soprano Marina Rebeka onstage wearing the beautiful finished product.
Anima for Tirade Magazine, Photographed by Cristian Di Stefano
I want to make bags that are conversation pieces,” says Hillary Taymour. The 20-something designer behind the Collina Strada label is sitting in her Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment, flipping through her look book of handbags. They bear one-of-a-kind patterns on canvas, offset by leather accents, and are unconventionally shaped—hexagons, triangles, and trapezoids. Most luxury handbags, Taymour says, “all look alike. And they all have these little [label] tags on them so you can see who made them.” A Collina Strada, meanwhile, is made expressly to look uncommon—and comes tag-free.
Taymour has recognized the value in making a product that stands out, and tempering the size of her business to stoke demand. She has skillfully straddled both ends of the retail spectrum, only in reverse order, winning the attention of bigger-name shops such as Target and Urban Outfitters to court boutiques “with more street cred,” such as Need Supply and New York City’s influential OAK. To stir up buzz, she frequently creates limited editions for her retailers, which typically sell out.
It’s a strategy that’s paying off. Collina Strada has garnered a following among tastemakers such as actress Chloë Sevigny, supermodel Shalom Harlow, and even America’s Next Top Model den mother Tyra Banks. “I feel like my line is a bit exclusive,” Taymour says. Her trick: creating her own textile designs, which start out as images she Photoshops—of flowers, parking lots, and statues—until they’re artfully distorted.
Taymour straddles both ends of the retail spectrum, from Target to Need Supply.
A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (with a degree in product development and business management), Taymour started making bags for herself in 2008 while working in men’s product development at Guess Jeans in Los Angeles. Her oversize and exaggerated take on the hobo bag was such a hit that she made some for friends at their request. With interest growing among her friends in fashion, Taymour anointed her line Collina Strada, the Italian words for “hill” and “road,” simply because those words sounded nice together, she says. Then, at the behest of a fellow designer, she took a few samples to Project, a fashion-trade event in Las Vegas. Anthropologie promptly placed an order.
Shortly thereafter, before even developing a full line, Target came calling—a game-changer for Taymour. “I hadn’t even shipped a season yet and I had an order with Target,” she marvels. “Ever since then, each season something big like that would happen, where I could just keep going.” With business growing, she left her job in 2009 and moved to New York City.
Taymour’s inspirations are diverse and serendipitous. The idea behind a leather harness, for instance, came while watching an action movie. “I wanted to make a fake gun holster but cooler—like a handbag.” And her bags’ trademark geometric, layered-leather design is lifted from patterned doors she saw while traveling in Casablanca and Marrakesh. Often her designs end up being ahead of the curve. Her chic, leather-accented backpacks are edgier counterparts to rucksacks from Madewell and Marc Jacobs. Her satchels, designed to fit snugly on a set of bicycle handlebars, speak to the hipster bike boom. And her playful leather harnesses, with pouches to hold money and lipstick, predated Lady Gaga and Rihanna wearing similar accessories on stage.
Taymour’s next challenge: maintaining the cachet of exclusivity while growing her brand. A little over a year ago, Collina Strada launched a clothing line and will debut its Spring 2014 collection in August. The line includes loose jumpsuits, leather sweatshirts, and silky, feather-light pants—many boasting her wistful kaleidoscope-meets-tie-dye prints. “I just want to make easy pieces that anyone can wear,” Taymour says. “I don’t want it to be throwaway fashion.”
She’s plotting an avant-garde shoe line now, too, and taking meetings with high-end department stores—which she’s tight-lipped about. “It’s one of those things like, ‘We’ll see you again,’” the designer says, shrugging. “Stores that I’ve been trying to get into for years are now selling out of my purses. So, it’ll happen. I’m not worried.”
Nisha Gopalan for NewsWeek
It seems personal style blogger extraordinaire Bryan Boy was inspired to speak out after attending the CFDA/Lexus Eco-Fashion Lunch this week. A bit about the initiative: It was founded in 2010 as a response to both the CFDA and Lexus’ commitment to sustainable practices, and the Award is given to designers who best demonstrate their commitment to ecologically responsible and sustainable design/production. Bryan Boy took to his Twitter account to do his part and share the following bit of knowledge …