Interview: Director Constantine Costi on reviving La Traviata for Opera Australia

At the ripe old age of 28, Constantine Costi is making a name for himself across a number of theatre forms and as one of Opera Australia’s youngest directors. Part of a young creative family, his brother a playwright and sister as composer, he creatives and revives a diverse range of performances from immersive theatre to opera and everything in between. His latest revival, La Traviata, opens in Melbourne tomorrow, and also serves as his directorial debut for Opera Australia. We caught up with Costi to talk about the his career to date and the anticipated production.

How long have you been working in the arts industry?

I went through the NIDA directing course in 2013 and have been working in the arts ever since.

Constantine Costi (Provided)

Your list of credits is impressive and includes directing theatre, opera and music videos, to name a few. Which of these did you enjoy directing the most and why?

Every medium offers something that is unique to its DNA – an essential quality within the marrow of the form. For instance, the control that editing a music video offers you is incredibly rewarding – to have a product set in stone. However, I can get quite restless and relish the wild mercurial quality of a live performance. I have been working mainly in opera lately and it continues to present me with challenges and surprises. Opera directing is addictive and offers a bottomless pit of directorial possibilities. Music can move an audience in such a powerful way that makes it an incredibly rewarding form to tell a story with.

How does it feel to make your OA directorial debut?

I am thrilled to be debuting with Opera Australia. La Traviata is a remarkable piece to direct and to work with some of the country’s best singers and creatives is an enormous privilege.

The revival director is responsible for finding the meeting point between the new cast, the conductor’s ideas, and those of the original team. How much freedom do you have to pursue your own ideas?

Revival directing is about being as true as possible to the intention of the original production. However, when given a new cast with their own ideas, physicality, and chemistry, you have to adapt. It’s a balancing act between Elijah Moshinsky’s original staging, my own ideas, and (most importantly) what Verdi has written. I endeavour to infuse my choices with as much detail and truthfulness as possible in order to bring the piece to life.

Can you briefly describe your production of La Traviata?

This La Traviata is true to the period of Verdi’s original intended setting; Paris in the decadent and vibrant age of the demi monde. This brings an incredible tension and sense of reckless abandon to the show. The world of flashy courtesans is in direct contrast to the conservative ruling class of the time. This production sets Violetta caught between the two worlds and eventually devastated by both.

Why do you think audiences should come and see La Traviata?

On purely visual level, it is stunning. The sets and costumes are captivating in their painterly detail. This La Traviata is a brilliant introduction to anyone who is new to opera, but also offers a timeless approach for any connoisseur of the piece.

Do you have a favourite aria from La Traviata? Why did you pick this particular one?

Violetta’s aria in the final act, Addio dell passato, is my favourite. It is heartbreaking and gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Verdi has written a perfect aria that encapsulates a woman abandoned by the world in the final moments of her life. It is full of sorrow, rage and loss – and in the hands of soprano Corrine Winters it is a real highlight of the evening.

If you could collaborate with any composer from history (living or dead) who would you choose and why?

Monteverdi. He was one of the first to link the idea of music to dramatic action. I was lucky enough to direct Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra last year. In that piece, his music conveys specific sounds of war – horses galloping, swords clashing and even the heavy breathing of exhausted lovers engaged in battle. He was a pioneer who, I believe, would relish the dramatic possibilities open to us today. He made music a form to be seen and experienced, as opposed to just listened to.

If money was no object and you could stage your dream production what would it look like and where would it play?

I don’t believe that a production needs a huge amount of money to be successful. I staged a guerilla version of Puccini’s Il Tabarro in a warehouse in Sydney’s Newtown in 2016. The set was a white van and the props we needed were a few pig carcasses and cans of VB (we updated the setting to a meat packing factory). It was beyond paired back, but the intimacy and commitment of the team made it a memorable and unique way to engage with opera. An extension of this philosophy is a part of a dream production – something bare and truthful to connect with an audience in a close up, sweaty, and unflinching way.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell The AU Review about La Traviata or any of your other upcoming projects?

My brother Michael is a playwright and my sister Rosemarie is a composer. We have written a new musical based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story The Overcoat. It‘s opening as part of The Belvoir Street Theatre’s inaugural 25a season at the end of the year.

La Traviata opens tomorrow (April 17th) at the State Theatre at Arts Centre Melbourne and runs until May 11th. For tickets and more details head HERE.