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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 13, No. 9

Aline Kutan Takes on La Traviata

by David Podgorski / June 4, 2008

For Aline Kutan, her first performance of La Traviata has been quite a discovery. Verdi’s dramatic opera is a mainstay of the repertoire, but Kutan has been finding out why the opera is such a dramatic challenge – and such a departure from her earlier roles as a coloratura soprano.

Kutan wistfully recalls wanting to do La Traviata ever since she was eleven years old. “Like all sopranos, I dreamed of doing La Traviata. I remember listening to Joan Sutherland in La Traviata when I was very young,” she reminisces. “She was someone who inspired me to be a singer and her coloratura was fantastic.”

Still, as soon as she had the chance, Kutan worked hard to make the dream a reality.“When I was starting out in Vancouver, I was doing The Phantom of the Opera eight times a week,” Kutan recalls. “David Meek was running vocal workshops where he did scenes from operas, so I went to him and asked if I could sing the two arias from La Traviata: Ah, fors’ è lui...Sempre libera and Addio del Passato with him. So I was already singing the arias from La Traviata when I was eighteen. I was still practically a student.”

Now, Kutan is a facing a new challenge in the role of Violetta, Verdi’s tragic heroine in La Traviata. “Violetta is a role I really want to delve into,” Kutan says. “It’s tough, because her character really progresses from the first act - which is very light - to the second act, where she’s pleading with her lover’s father to let them be together, to the end of the opera, when she realizes she’s dying and nothing can save her.” It’s more than just a dramatic role that happens to be written for a coloratura, Kutan explains. “It is not really a conventional coloratura role, the coloratura in her voice isn’t just virtuosity for its own sake. It represents Violetta’s longing to be free and her expression of the joy she’s found in being truly in love.” Kutan also finds inspiriation in the link between Violetta and Alfredo and Verdi’s personal life. “I think Verdi understood the character of Violetta very well because he and his second wife were together for close to twelve years before they were finally married. She had already had two of his sons while they were living together and they weren’t looked upon very well. So I think when Verdi read Dumas’s story, it touched him. The music is very personal.”

This is a long way from the Delibes’s Lakmé, a tried-and-true coloratura role that Kutan has been doing for many years. “Verdi is a real verismo composer,” Kutan says pointedly. “You get the sense that he tries to portray down-to-earth real people and emotions. Lakmé is a beautiful opera, but the main character is more of a conventional French romantic hero. When Lakmé dies, she just shrugs it off and says, ‘Oh, well in death we’ll be together.’ Violetta goes through the whole gut-wrenching reaction of ‘Oh my God I’m going to die!’”

Kutan is also known for portraying the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, which she’s done fifteen times in the past. While she concedes the Queen is a powerful character, she’s ready for a different sort of role. “You can do Mozart with the same level of drama as with Verdi,” Kutan concedes, “but Mozart wrote sixty years before Verdi and his style is completely different. I’ve been able to do the Queen of the Night dramatically, not just singing pretty notes like a bird, but The Magic Flute is an entirely different type of drama from La Traviata.”

So how does a coloratura make the jump to Verdi musically? For Kutan, the most important thing is to take a look at the drama portrayed in the music and stay close to the composer’s intentions. “The tempo I pick comes out of the drama,” Kutan explains. “I’ve heard this role sung so many different ways in so many different tempi depending on how it sits in the voice. But in Sempre Libera, you have about three tempi, beginning with a recitative-like one. The second part is this sort of dreamy “Could this be happening?” as she slowly asks herself if it’s real, and then she comes out of this dream brutally saying “Follia, follia!” So how would you deliver that? It’s a question of interpreting someone in a daydream gradually becoming aware of her surroundings, and Verdi is a composer who always puts the drama in the music.”

Kutan can certainly interpret romantic tragedies on stage, but thankfully her personal life isn’t like anything out of Verdi. She gave birth to a daughter in August 2006 and now she has to juggle life on stage with life as a parent. “Having a baby gave me a whole different perspective on life,” she says. “Sometimes I think I’m going crazy because I have more fear than I used to have, not of going on stage but of having to take care of another person. It makes me see things in a different light. I realized that life doesn’t revolve around me but around this other person who depends on me.”

And how does having a baby affect how you sing? “Doing Lakmé was hard cause I had to do it five months after giving birth, and my muscles weren’t completely there. I had to take a break after Lakmé and stop singing for a while. Then I started all over with a completely different approach.” Kutan considers this for a moment. “The hormones really helped settle things, though,” she adds. n


v Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata, June 20, 22,

Vermont Green Mountain Festival,


v Concert, June 12, Lanaudière Festival


v Mahler’s 8th Symphony, September 9, 10, OSM, osm.ca

v Recital with Michael McMahon, piano

v October 12, Orford Centre, arts-orford.org

v Messiaen’s St-Francois d’Assise, Dec. 5, 9, OSM, osm.ca

(c) La Scena Musicale