Classical magazine Diapason hurls barbs at Opera Australia’s “hideous monstrosity.”

The French are notoriously tough critics of classical music – Parisian opera-goers are among the quickest to boo, and 100 years after the premiere of The Rite of Spring, its punchdrunk riot is the stuff of legend. There’s certainly no French kiss on its way to Opera Australia after Diapason classical music magazine, the Francophone equivalent of Gramophone, slammed the DVD of last year’s inaugural Opera on Sydney Harbour in a particularly scathing review.

In the February edition, critic Michel Parouty didn’t have a single bon mot to say about the $11-million water-bound production of La Traviata, bemoaning the “hideous costumes”, “ridiculous drag queens”, and “vulgarity that relies on the worst clichés and recoils at nothing”. In short, he says, “horreur”.

Although he concedes that Emma Matthews, the only cast member mentioned by name, is an “excellent singer”, he charges the production for turning her into an “overcharged, hysterical” Violetta. And we thought Frenchmen were charming!

This tirade of invective might not bode well for Opera Australia, with just a week before they unveil the second incarnation of the Opera on Sydney Harbour extravaganza, the French opera Carmen. However, Parouty puts the blame for what he describes as the “monstrosity” of La Traviata squarely on director Frencesca Zambello, so perhaps Gale Edwards will fare better this year.

Judging from my own pleasantly surprised – rapt, even – experience of La Traviata live, it might be a case of “you had to be there” when it comes to a foreign perspective of the DVD – the magic of sitting in Mrs Macquarie’s Chair under the Southern Cross, hearing Matthews and cast amplified clear as a bell, may not come across in the special features. (The production won two Limelight Awards.) Or perhaps, despite subtitles, something is lost in translation on film. Oh well – c'est la vie.

Read Limelight's review of La Traviata on the Harbour here

Carmen, the 2013 Opera on Sydney Harbour, runs from March 23 – April 12.