Director Alessandro Talevi’s production is much aided by Madeline Boyd’s sumptuous set and costume design as it relishes its traditional 19th Century roots. 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 (Alison Langer) aided by her friend Flora (Victoria Sharp) hosting a lavish party where she is introduced by Gastone (Gavan King) to his friend, Alfredo Germont (Nico Darmanin), a fervent admirer, who is more concerned for her failing health than her escort, Baron Douphal (James Cleverton). 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 (Oliver Johnston) and Violetta have been living together for some time in an isolated country house. He soon learns from maid Annina (Amy J Payne) that Violetta is having to sell her possessions to maintain them, and he hurries to Paris to sort his affairs. His father, Giorgio (Damiano Salerno) 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 (Matthew Stiff) 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.
Perhaps the truest test of a performance is how it responds to unforeseen challenges and certainly no one would have envisaged Darmanin having to retire at the end of Act I due to ill health although his subdued performance hinted that something wasn’t quite right. Opera North have alternated their principals between productions and fortunately Johnston was on hand to step in and it is much to his credit and Langer’s that they were able to connect and deliver the natural chemistry so essential to this production, with their ‘Parigi, o cara’, in which they dream of a happy future, particularly moving.
Salerno was less of a stranger as he delivered a powerful and menacing performance with a truly poignant Act II encounter with Langer, whilst special mention to the fantastic ensemble who delivered rousing performances throughout: their Act II Carmen cameo was delightful with superb choreography from Victoria Newlyn that reinforced the wonder of her opening sequence of courtesans bursting forth, alluding to all they had to offer and more.
The set was kept simple but the touches and flourishes from Boyd, supported by Lighting Designer Matthew Haskins and Video Designer Gemma Burditt, shone in a well-considered and thoughtful way throughout as we watched and were watched whilst day became night before day again, and time inevitably ticked away.
The orchestra conducted by Jonathan Webb captured the lightness and subtlety of sensitive, singular playing through to a full explosion of sound befitting the Parisian scenes, although on occasion the most important instrument, the voice, had to fight a little to be heard.
On which note the final word must go to Langer as this is very much Violetta’s opera. Verdi famously said this was a role for three different women and Langer was all of them tonight and more, and I must confess to falling in love just a little with this Violetta.
La Traviata is one of Opera North’s current touring productions, further details https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 16th November 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★