La Traviata

In the years BS (Before Spotify), there used to be themed album collections: NOW That's What I Call Opera could be compiled solely from the seemingly endless bangers from La Traviata. The non-stop glorious music is heightened by the topics of the show: love, money, transgressive sex, reckless hedonism, debauchery, the hypocritical oppression of women by the patriarchy, and a young life, like a wilting flower, fading under the horror of consumption - now that's what I call opera!

a tragedy of star crossed love - not only for the lovers but also for the father

This show is a revival of David McVicar’s beguiling production from 2008 directed by Leo Castaldi with rehearsal input from McVicar himself.

The stage setting is Belle Époque Paris - underscoring the unbending demands of polite society while allowing the chorus and dancers to evoke the demi-monde world of the Folies Bergère – giving a sense of the sexually scandalous thrill of the opera when it was first shown. In the eyes of such audiences the story would have been surprisingly domestic with the chorus restricted to the party scenes, contrasting with the intimate settings for the duets and trios.

The spirited and energetic party chorus and dancers must be mentioned, (Andrew George, choreographer and Susannah Wapshott, chorus director) the chorus genuinely look as if they are totally living it large.

Despite all this spectacle and colour, the show is dominated by Hye-Youn Lee’s charismatic Violetta. Her performance ranges from extremes of coloratura to dramatic romanticism, through thoughtless hedonism, to the temptations of love, to sacrifice and deadly illness. The great test of the part is the third act, which consists solely of Violetta’s last hours on earth. The audience has to overcome the fact this scene is much parodied, and speaking personally, my patience can fray. However, Hye-Youn Lee's haunting singing and depth of performance dismisses all these problems. And it is here where Ji-Min Par, playing the lover Alfredo, comes into his own; with exquisite sensitivity in the duets, and superb acting. For a moment one has the sense of how this scene would feel for a contemporaneous audience when one in four people died of the ‘white death’.

A feature of La Traviata is the dynamism of the duets, which not only convey the characters’ emotions but also dramatically represent the drip-drip of coercion and the internal conflicts between desire and duty. Particularly outstanding is the sung dialogue between Alfredo’s father (powerfully sung and acted by Phillip Rhodes throughout) and Lee's Violetta as he persuades her to reject her lover, Alfredo.

A notable point is this production's handling of the Baron. It's a role that can disappear in the mix, but Nicholas Lester’s brooding presence allows the Baron to be a striking symbol of Violetta’s unspoken ‘real life’ and a suitable driver of the plot.

Finally, Stuart Stratford’s conducting, though occasionally swamping the singing, brings dynamism and superb orchestral balance to the production.

The emphasis of McVicar’s interpretation is this is a tragedy of star crossed love - not only for the lovers but also for the father whose love causes so much pain.

Reviews by Mark Harding

La Traviata

★★★★
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★★★★
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★★★★
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★★★★
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★★★★
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★★★★

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

This beloved production, which began life at Scottish Opera in 2008, has been seen at opera houses around the world.

Violetta Valéry lives on borrowed time. In Paris’ hedonistic high society, she squeezes 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. Giuseppe Verdi’s devastating tragedy has inspired countless retellings, including cult favourite films Pretty Woman and Moulin Rouge!.

With his characteristic eye for detail, Sir David McVicar (Il trittico, Falstaff, Pelléas et Mélisande) gets to the love and loss at the core of this doomed love affair in his passionate, gripping, and startlingly intimate Belle Époque production. Tanya McCallin’s sumptuous designs centre Violetta’s journey and enduring legacy despite her fleeting life. Verdi’s magnificent score sweeps the characters through every shifting mood – from the wildly dramatic to the most vulnerable moments.

Sung in Italian with English supertitles

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