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  • Writer's pictureSharon Wilson

Food and La traviata 

Food of the the Belle Epoque

Audiences in Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh have the chance to experience a revival of world-renowned director Sir David McVicar’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata this summer from Scottish Opera.

 

Soprano Hye-Youn Lee performs Violetta Valéry who lives in the hedonistic social scene of the Belle Epoque in Paris, squeezing each day for its joys before her illness catches up with her. When the idealistic young Alfredo offers true love, happiness seems possible – but her past has exacted a price.

 

After seeing some of the food props from the production, Bite became curious and asked Marian Colquhoun, Head of Props, about her role in the opera. 

Marian Colquhoun, Head of Props,

What attracted you to your profession? 

I was raised by two very creative parents who taught me that often the best way to get what you want is to make it yourself.  I loved to sew, sculpt, paint and play musical instruments and then I discovered prop making. I trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland,  in various London workshops and the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.  I moved home to Scotland and have had an amazing eleven years working for Scottish Opera, helping to build their Props Department which is now home to some of Scotland's finest artisans.


What do you need to consider when designing food and drink props?

Food props can often be our favourite type of prop! The story or director will steer whether the food props have to be real or fake.  If the food is not to be eaten we will assess the cost of buying food versus the cost of making high-quality props. With the latter, we aim to make them look mouth-watering.


What scenes are most important for food and/or drink in this production?

The food props play an important role in Act 1 of La traviata. In the Parisien Salon of Violetta Valéry, the courtesan is hosting a lavish party with an abundance of food and alcohol. A large banqueting table is laden with Champagne, platters of oysters, expensive meats, breads, pates and fresh strawberries. The food communicates sensuality as we witness the romantic tension between Violetta and Alfredo. Oysters and strawberries symbolise sex. 


What are your favourite food or drink props and why?

I enjoy replicating food from the 1960s & 1970s. We often use recipe books from this period as inspiration for making over-the-top cakes and desserts. The more elaborate and flamboyant the better! It's brilliant fun to make towers of jelly and flans covered in detailed decoration.  It's so rewarding when people think they are real, especially when you consider that they are mostly made from foams and chemicals.  However, my favourite food prop I have ever helped create was the giant Tunnock's Teacakes for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.


Where and how would you do research?

We do a lot of research online but some of the most interesting references available are documented in old recipe books, history books and paintings.   We must research to create food that is 100% accurate because we are recreating a picture of what life was like at the time.  People are passionate about food and we must be equally passionate in our representations of it on stage.


Festival Theatre Edinburgh 7,11,13 & 15 June 2024, 7.15 pm; 9 June 2024, 3 pm (Matinee)




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