Saturday 1 March 2014

Fallen Women: La Traviata

Giuseppe Verdi - La Traviata: Welsh National Opera: Wales Millennium Centre
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Feb 25 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Second in WNO's Fallen Women series, La Traviata took the audience through a whole gamut of emotions

Second in the Fallen Women series from the WNO La Traviata was one of the best operas I have ever seen. In this version directed by David McVicar Linda Richardson was superb as the tragic Violetta Valéry, taking the audience through a whole gamut of emotions, as she lives and dies for her beliefs. Though she may be a fallen woman – she rises above her past and sacrifices her happiness, and perhaps even her life, for her lover’s best interests.

La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi (1813 -1901) premiered in Venice in 1853, two years after Rigoletto which I recently saw at the ENO. Some 40 years earlier than Puccini’s Manon Lescaut La Traviata was not an instant success. However it has not only endured but has become part of artistic consciousness, especially the well known song Sempre LibreAlways free sung by Violetta.

Like Manon, La Traviata was based on a book, this time La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils (1824-1895) published only few years earlier in 1948. In Dumas’ story (in which he refers to Manon Lescaut) Marguerite (Violetta in the opera) is a courtesan who falls in love with a young man Armand Duval. They move in together but their happy world is destroyed by Armand’s father who, wanting to prevent the scandal of the affair destroying his son’s life, persuades Marguerite to leave Armand. In Dumas’ story Marguerite dies of tuberculosis before any reconciliation, but Verdi is kinder to Violetta, who dies in the arms of Armand after his father realises that their love and happiness is more important than his high handed morals.

La Traviata was located by McVicar in 1880s Paris. The sets and costumes were sumptuous and a complete contrast to the stark industrial Manon. Nevertheless the idea of circular time was touched upon in both: during the opening overture opera we saw workmen clearing away a house – which we later find out was the room where Violetta died. Other parallels included Alfredo winning money at cards with the aim of buying back Violetta’s love – not knowing that, unlike Manon, Violetta is driven by her love for him and not money.

Linda Richardson and Peter Sonn performed the young lovers (Violetta and Alfredo Germont) perfectly. Their voices had the right depth of sound without being too rich, changing from insecure at the start of their relationship, to caressing lovers, to Violetta’s heartbreak and determination and Alfredo’s anger and jealousy at being deserted, then back to heartbreak while Violetta dies.

Alan Opie got to the heart of the character of Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont. Giorgio was as complicated a person as Violetta or Alfredo, changing from an overbearing and manipulative father to someone who could see Violetta’s true character. All three have journeys to make and are ultimately redeemed, and in this production they took the audience along with them.

Conductor Simon Phillippo and the orchestra played magnificently providing a nice balance to the singers. Supporting characters Rebecca Afonwy-Jones as Flora, Philip Lloyd-Evans as Marquis d'Obigny, Howard Kirk as Gaston, and Jack O'Kelly as Baron Douphol, brought the party scenes to life. Aided by the WNO chorus and dancers they provided a hearty and hedonistic foil to the sick and dying Violetta and lovesick Alfredo. Violetta’s servants Sian Meinir and Michael Clifton-Thompson and Doctor Grenvil (Martin Lloyd) played their roles sympathetically and were similarly essential in highlighting Violetta’s personality and steadfastness.

La Traviata is playing around the country until the 12th April. Take your hankies – you’ll need them for the last Act.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

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