NEXT week Welsh National Opera open their season at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton with Prokofiev’s War and Peace, Verdi’s much loved opera classic La traviata and Rossini’s La Cenerentola – a version of the Cinderella fairy tale.

We take a closer look at the most popular and most performed opera in the world, Verdi’s La traviata which is at The Mayflower Theatre on 21 & 23 November.

The opera is an enduring tragic love story of Parisian courtesan Violetta and her passionate affair with Alfredo, which brings them true love before they are separated by society, disease and destiny. WNO is reviving a period production originally directed by Sir David McVicar, that was first staged in 2009 – with the sumptuous style of 19th century Paris recreated in the set, and a range of bohemian and lavish costumes reflecting French fashions of the time.

The production sees two debuts from finalists of last year’s BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in the lead romantic roles – Anush Hovhannisyan and Kang Wang. Anush plays courtesan Violetta Valéry, sharing the lead role with established soprano Linda Richardson, and Kang plays the part of young bourgeois Alfredo Germont.

Things you didn’t know about WNO’s La traviata and the famous story……

• Is La traviata a weepy and will I need my tissues?

La traviata is a tragic love story, and in fact eagle-eyed audience members will notice that the floor of WNO’s set resembles a giant grave stone so it’s not a spoiler to share there is a sad ending. In the film ‘Pretty Woman’ (a film with elements of the same story) Julia Roberts’ character is taken to see La traviata and she certainly needed a hanky.

• Do I know the story of La traviata?

You may have come across this story before without realising. As well as being reference in ‘Pretty Woman’, Baz Luhrmann’s musical film ‘Moulin Rouge’ follows the same basic plot of La traviata. There’s actually a grain of truth to it, as the opera is inspired by French author Alexandre Dumas’s book about a love affair with a Parisian courtesan, a loose retelling of his own relationship with a prominent socialite and mistress.

• How long does it take to create the costumes for an opera?

The costume department starts working on a production 6 months before the show opens. As well as creating a lot of the costume items in WNO’s workroom, the Head of Costume works with the designer to source items from vintage stores and expert makers from all over. The dress rehearsal, a few days before opening night, is always a very special anticipated event in the company.

• How many hours rehearsal are needed to prepare?

A lot of preparation and rehearsal goes into each performance and each cast member rehearses for at least 45 hours in total before the performance not including their own personal practice hours. As La traviata is such a well-known piece for opera singers, this is near the bottom end of rehearsal times – it can take much longer to learn all the music and stagecraft.

• How many wigs are used?

Most cast on stage wear wigs as part of their costume and there are no less than 20 wigs used in the production and 12 moustaches on the men. These are also washed and then dried in WNO’s very own wig oven in between performances!

• How long does it take to put up the set?

Erecting the set is a challenging task which initially takes a crew of 29 people 4-6 hours, each time after that is streamlined and then becomes quicker. WNO’s technical team have to get very familiar with the job while a show is in Cardiff before taking it out on the road for the tour.

• How many cast members are in the production?

There are 52 cast members including chorus and dancers.

• What is the vocal range of the main character Violetta?

Violetta’s note range in the opera is B flat 4 – D flat 6 (that’s over 2 octaves!) which sits within the soprano range. Beyoncé and Ariana Grande have the same impressive vocal range.

• How many times has WNO performed La traviata before?

WNO has had 8 different productions of La traviata over the years, and the company has performed the opera over 300 times.

• Is La traviata really the most popular opera?

Looking at opera companies worldwide, La traviata is consistently one of the most performed operas, and according to research on last year La traviata was the most performed opera in the world! In the 2017-18 season, it says there 4,162 separate performances across 889 productions globally. That’s a lot of tears shed!

• When did WNO first perform La traviata?

WNO’s first performance of La traviata was 70 years ago in 1948 in the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cardiff now a Wetherspoons!

• La traviata was the first opera to be performed at WNO’s current home at the Wales Millennium Centre in February 2005. Including the ‘wings’ that allow performers to get on and off stage, the WMC’s stage is a whopping 20x36m – one of the largest in the UK, second only to the Royal Opera House in Convent Garden.

• Where will WNO be touring La traviata to altogether this Autumn?

WNO will be taking La traviata on tour across England and Wales to the following cities and towns: Oxford, Llandudno, Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham and Southampton. WNO is Europe’s most active touring opera company, reaching 140,000 people each year.

• Who are the singers in La traviata?

The casting department begin talks with principal cast members up to 4 years in advance of opening night. WNO works with a lot of the best young singers developing in the industry. There are two leads making their debuts in this production, but who knows, they could be set for international stardom, as a certain Alfie Boe played Alfredo in La traviata with WNO back in 2009.

• How much will it cost to see La traviata?

Tickets start at just £12.50 and it can cost as little as £10 for people under 30 to see a WNO opera, making a trip to the opera far cheaper than many other cultural or sporting events.

For further details on Welsh National Opera’s full autumn season see