Russian soprano Ekaterina Siurina and American tenor Charles Castronovo are a married couple playing lovers in La Traviata.
Ten years ago, Russian soprano Ekaterina Siurina and American tenor Charles Castronovo met on the set of L’Élixir d’amour and, as Castronovo says, “The elixir worked.”
He pursued her with a vengeance, even though they didn’t share a language and communicated mostly through sign gestures and smiles. They were in Berlin at the time, and “she spoke almost no English,” Castronovo says.
“I was practically mad,” remembers Castronovo. Siurina was bowled over by his ardent overtures: “He was so considerate and gentle. You can see when a person is in love.”
This story has a happy ending; they are now married with two children, and have the rare occasion of singing opposite each other in the Canadian Opera Company’s La Traviata, which opens Oct. 8 in Toronto.
Their characters — the courtesan Violetta Valéry and her noble boyfriend Alfredo Germont — aren’t as fortunate in the Verdi story of love and sacrifice, directed by New York theatre director Arin Arbus.
This is a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Houston Grand Opera that premiered in Chicago in 2013. When it was first performed in 1853, it scandalized audiences with its depiction of the love life of a courtesan and the hypocrisies of Italian society.
In La Traviata, Alfredo follows the partying although frail courtesan to her country house but his father, fearing societal fallout, asks Violetta to reject Alfredo. She writes him a letter and returns to the city and protection of a rich man. Alfredo comes to rescue her, too late.
Siurina is delighted Violetta succumbs to consumption in the opera.
“I’m used to it. In opera, there is never a happy ending,” she says. “Charlie also loves to die on stage.”
(Castronovo notes the audiences really clap a lot when your character is dead.)
It’s a wonder that either Siurina or Castronovo ended up in opera. Castronovo grew up in a nonmusical family in Queens New York before moving to Los Angeles. He started acting in plays in school and was interested in rock and roll. He had three bands throughout school, playing classic rock.
At school, when the choir director noted “there were 50 girls and only five boys. I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it.’ ”
One thing led to another and he was singing Curly in Oklahoma and started sniffing around the outskirts of opera, listening to records of Placido Domingo. He was admitted to the Metropolitan Opera Young Artists Program but left after two years as he already had an agent and was getting roles with major companies.
Siurina grew up in a single parent family with few resources but lots of state-sponsored arts programs. She sang in choirs, but was urged to take on a profession instead before she got a chance to train in Moscow. Her grandmother bought her train ticket from their remote town a day’s travel away. She learned theatre, dancing, stage work and fencing, and ended up travelling through Europe singing when she met her future husband.
About once a year they get a chance to perform in the same opera. This is their Canadian premiere and the first time they’ve played against each other in La Traviata. Of the last 12 months, they’ve been apart for nine of them so the family has decided to go together to Australia this winter when Siurina is in the Pearl Fishers.
“Now is our good time,” Siurina says, although she is perturbed by the bustle in her costume. “It looks like I have a piano on my butt.”
La Traviata plays at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, More information at
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