Lady of the Camellias Visits Festival

International Royal Opera soprano Ailyn Pérez visits the 4th annual Camellia Festival at Chiswick House.

Chiswick House and Gardens Trust welcomed internationally acclaimed soprano Ailyn Pérez, to their 4th annual Camellia Festival running from March 1st to 30th.

Ms Pérez, who sings the role of Violetta in The Royal Opera’s production of La traviata (based on Alexandre Dumas fils’s play and novella La Dame aux camélias – The Lady of the Camellias) this May, visited the heritage collection of camellias at Chiswick House.

The camellia plays a vital role in Verdi’s La traviata, as it affirms Violetta’s relationship with her lover Alfredo in Act I. Ailyn Pérez first sang the role of Violetta for The Royal Opera in 2010 in Japan, when she stepped into the role midway through a performance, taking over from a colleague who became unwell during the first act. She was immediately acclaimed in the role, and has since performed Violetta, which has become one of her signature roles, worldwide.

This Season she will sing Violetta in five productions: for The Royal Opera in London, Hamburg State Opera, Ópera de Oviedo in Spain, San Francisco Opera and the Bavarian State Opera. Her performances at Covent Garden will be particularly significant as this year marks the 20th anniversary of Richard Eyre’s classic production of Giuseppe Verdi’s most famous opera, and she will sing opposite her husband, American tenor Stephen Costello, who performs the role of Alfredo. The performance on 20th May will also be relayed live on BP Big Screens.

In Act I of The Royal Opera’s production of Verdi’s La traviata, Violetta is depicted wearing a beautiful white camellia. Towards the end of the act, she ceremoniously presents the camellia that she has worn on her dress at her evening party to Alfredo, telling him to return when it is faded. He does, and they fall in love – so the camellia plays a vital role in cementing their relationship.

When Verdi’s opera had its premiere in 1853, camellias were the height of fashion as the luxury flower, worth hundreds of pounds, which is why Chiswick House’s Camellias, many of which were planted back in 1828, were and continue to be, so important to this day.

The famous Parisian courtesan Marie Duplessis, made these prestigious flowers her emblem, and it was her story which inspired Dumas fils’s La Dame aux camélias.

Ms Pérez visited the historic Camellia collection, one of the finest in the country and the oldest in the West, housed in the pioneering conservatory, designed by Samuel Ware in 1813, which has recently been restored.

Chiswick House and Gardens has been home to musical celebrities for centuries. The 3rd Earl of Burlington was a great cultural arbiter and included Handel among his celebrity guests. More recently, The Beatles recorded two promotional videos here in 1966. And in 2013, Sir Peter Blake, famous for creating The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP cover, painted Chiswick's Camellia japonica 'Incarnata' to raise funds for the Festival. And the musical tradition continues with The Friends of Chiswick House and Gardens raising funds for the upkeep of the beautiful public grounds with their annual open-air opera.

The Festival Shop will be selling special Camellia inspired merchandise, including a limited edition print of their Camellia japonica 'Incarnata' by Sir Peter Blake, as well as a range of varieties of Camellia plants. The award-winning Chiswick House Café will be serving a delicious seasonal menu.

Royal Opera Soprano star Ailyn Perez posing by the Camellias at Chiswick House
Ailyn Pérez at the Chiswick House Camellia Festival

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