Director Bárbara Lluch’s current revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production delivers a truly musical feast that not only embraces and relishes its traditional 19th Century roots but whose theme continues to resonate strongly today. At its heart lies a love story which draws upon Alexandre Dumas the Younger’s real-life doomed love affair with well-known courtesan, Marie Duplessis.
We open with Violetta (Pretty Yende) aided by her friend Flora (Angela Simkin) hosting a lavish party where she is introduced by Gastone (Andrés Presno) to his friend, Alfredo Germont (Stephen Costello), a fervent admirer, who is more concerned for her failing health than her escort, Baron Douphal (Germán E. Alcántara). When Alfredo declares his love for her she wonders if he could be the one amidst her desire to be free to live her life.
A year on and Alfredo and Violetta have been living together for some time in an isolated country house. He soon learns from maid Annina (Kseniia Nikolaieva) that Violetta is having to sell her possessions to maintain them, and he hurries to Paris to sort his affairs. His father, Giorgio (Vladimir Stoyanov) arrives and with some guile tries to persuade Violetta to end the relationship.
At a party in Paris, much to everyone’s amazement, it is announced that Alfredo and Violetta are no longer together, with the arrival of Alfredo, followed by Violetta with the Baron, leading to an inevitable confrontation. As we are thrust towards our final scene, does an ever-present Doctor (David Shipley) suggest there is time for wounds to be healed? Will our lovers be reconciled when the truth finally unravels? Well, you’ll have to come and see for yourself.
Now in its 28th season, the production remains a highly engaging experience, enriched further by the sumptuous stage and costume design from Bob Crowley (inspired apparently by a remark from Sir Georg Solti for the original: ‘I want big frocks!’) which perfectly captures the superficial glamour of 19thC Parisian high life whilst serving to contrast the intimacy between Violetta and Alfredo. The bare contrast of a new home in Act II is cleverly considered before a pervading darkness creeps in to the heart-breaking final act where hope teeters on the edge of despair. The choreography throughout from Jane Gibson is outstanding.
Verdi’s sublime score contains some of his most inspired arias and duets which are delivered with aplomb, including Violetta’s introspective ‘Ah fors’è lui’ and hedonistic ‘Sempre libera’; Violetta and Giorgio’s poignant Act II encounter; and Alfredo and Violetta’s ‘Parigi, o cara’, in which they dream of a happy future, and we are delightfully swept along in the capable hands of conductor Giacomo Sagripanti, who paints exquisitely from a rich palette provided by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.
This is Violetta’s opera and Yende shone from the very beginning, singing effortlessly and with an assurance and strong tone that continued throughout, reflective of her character’s many parts, and complemented by a wonderfully expressive performance echoed in every gesture, eye movement, and turn. Verdi famously said this was a role for three different women: Yende was all of them tonight and I think I’ve just witnessed opera’s next big star.
Costello captured the duality of Alfredo, from his shy naivety to his violent petulance, the latter none more so than in the aggression of the gambling scene. Stoyanov was a late replacement, due to cast illness, but you would never have guessed as he oozed cunning with his manipulation of both Alfredo and Violetta in a very believable characterisation.
La Traviata performs through to 23rd July 2023, with the performance lasting 3 hours 20 minutes including two intervals, further details https://www.roh.org.uk/tickets-and-events/la-traviata-by-richard-eyre-details
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 13th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★