The Barber of Seville – Cancelled
Sarajevo’s Opera and Philharmonic were set to perform The Barber of Seville on Tuesday night. Written by Italian composer Gioachino Rossini the popular comic opera first appeared in Sarajevo in 1948 with several repeat performances over the years.
Co-produced with the Italian Embassy the opera is based on a play by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais. The performance got cancelled with short notice when the lead vocalist developed laryngitis.
The Lady of the Camellias Ballet – aka Camille
Thursday night Sarajevo Ballet performed The Lady of the Camellias at the National Theater. Written by American choreographer and producer John Neumeier the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied the ballet with choreography by Russian Vasili Medvedev and Frédéric Chopin’s music.
Background and Plot
John Neumeier’s ballet is based on Alexandre Dumas’ novel La Dame aux Camellias written in 1848. In 1852, a play of the same name premiered in Paris and was “an instant success”. Giuseppe Verdi put Dumas’ tragic story to music creating the opera La Traviata, with female protagonist Marguerite Gautier renamed Violetta Valéry.
Inspired by Verdi’s La Traviata, in 1978 Neumeier created a ballet using the same tragic theme with music by Frederic Chopin. His ballet is the story of a couple who meet in Paris at a performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. This is significant because Manon Lescaut characters are similar to those in Neumeier’s ballet.
The title role, Marguerite Gautier, is based on Marie Duplessis, the real-life lover of Alexandre Dumas. Set in mid-19th-century France, it’s a tragic love story between fictional characters. The female protagonist, Marguerite, is a famous rococo courtesan with terminal consumption. Armand Duval, a young bourgeois aristocrat, meets her in Paris and falls in love.
The ballet takes place after Marguerite’s death at an auction of the furnishings in her “luxurious Paris apartment”. The story evolves as a “series of memories” recalled by several people:
- Nanina – Marguerite’s loyal servant
- Armand Duval – Marguerite’s lover
- Monsieur Duval – Armand’s father
Carrying Marguerite’s diary, Nanina says farewell to the Paris apartment. Among those at the auction is Monsieur Duval, whose son Armand “rushes in frantically overcome by his memories and emotions”. Armand tells his story about meeting Marguerite in Paris at a performance of Manon Lescaut and falling in love with her
Aware of her fatal illness Marguerite needs the comforts of luxury provided by wealthy Dukes and Counts. She’s attracted to Armand and they enjoy a “series of adventures” in and around Paris. For the benefit of her other admirers Marguerite “insists their affair remain secret”.
“While Marguerite continues her hectic life, hastening from ball to ball, from one ardent admirer to the next, from an old Duke to a young Count, Armand is always there — waiting for her.”
As time passes Marguerite acknowledges her love for Armand. They move to the countryside and are finally together while she regains her health.
Monsieur Duval visits Marguerite to insist that living with a prostitute will “ruin his son”. Marguerite protests but realizes the truth of Monsieur Duval’s accusations. She “gives in to his demands and out of deep and sincere love” leaves Armand.
Unbelieving, Armand follows Marguerite to Paris and finds her in the arms of the Duke. He takes revenge by flirting with a beautiful young courtesan, Olympia.
“Deathly ill, Marguerite visits Armand begging him not to hurt her by flaunting his affair with Olympia. Their passion ignites once more, but she remembers her promise to his father and leaves Armand a second time.”
Armand publicly humiliates Marguerite at a grand ball, by handing her money as payment for past services. She collapses.
Armand reaches the end of his story. Rejected because of her past, his beloved Marguerite dies alone. He will never see her again. Deeply moved, Armand’s father leaves. Marguerite’s servant Nanina approaches and gives Armand the diary containing Marguerite’s last thoughts of love for him.
The theme and characters from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut – where Armand and Marguerite first met in Paris – are ironically similar. The main character dies in the arms of her faithful lover. Armand silently closes Marguerite’s diary.
It was a lovely ballet and all seats in the house were sold. The set, costumes, and symphony were exquisite. Talented dancers shined while performing difficult choreography and the audience clearly appreciated them. Throughout the evening I detected many Italian and Russian accents. There was no printed program listing names of the dancers, and photos were not allowed.
Symphony, ballet, and opera performances in Sarajevo are inexpensive. I paid about $10 for a great seat at this fabulous performance.