Monday 28 May 2018

Worth seeking out: Verdi's La Traviata from Hampstead Garden Opera

Verdi: La Traviata - Hampstead Garden Opera - (photo © 2018 Laurent Compagnon)
Verdi: La Traviata - Hampstead Garden Opera - (photo © 2018 Laurent Compagnon)
Verdi La Traviata; Eleanor Ross, Alex Aldren, Lawrence Wallington, dir: Sophie Gilpin, cond: Sam Evans; Hampstead Garden Opera at Jackson's Lane Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 May 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
1960s Parisian setting shows off Eleanor Ross's fine Violetta

Before kick-off, this Friday, May 25, 2018, at Jackson's Lane Theatre the outgoing Chairman of Hampstead Garden Opera, Roger Sainsbury, gave a heart-felt restatement of the company’s aims to present affordable top class opera whilst supporting the next generation of artistes with the pleas for more public support. It hadn’t escaped my notice that this production of Verdi's La Traviata had been handsomely sponsored by an anonymous local donor. Good for them. Who can argue with the pursuit of excellence?

This evening’s cast of young operatic talent was led by Eleanor Ross as the demi-mondaine Violetta. As Germont Père e Fils were Lawrence Wallington and Alex Aldren. Sam Evans, Head of Vocal Studies at Highgate School, conducted, in a production directed by Sophie Gilpin and designed by Anna Bonomelli.

After a striking opening Prelude, the lights rose on a pool-side party. If I’m entirely honest I’m not convinced that Sophie Gilpin’s decision to set the action in Paris’ swinging 60’s helped to bring any great clarity to the narrative.
Nothing wrong intrinsically with setting the action in any period but there is a subtext that the opera’s original audience would have understood all too well. After all, they were all at it like knives, which accounts for the outpouring of bile from some corners of the press at its premiere. Its difficult to ignore our heroine’s day job or the ‘romantic disease’. At any rate, it deserves to be explored in some way. As Verdi put it, rather succinctly, "a whore must always be a whore". La Traviata exposes the moral bankruptcy of society; simply making Violetta a 60’s festaiola seems to dilute the central moral themes and ultimately her journey towards self-sacrifice. And lorks - didn’t they have a cure for TB in 1949?

Despite my reservation, it certainly wasn’t egregious enough to undermine what was a rather fine evening of music. From the get-go I was put at my ease by the ferocious talent of Eleanor Ross as the story’s fulcrum. With a luxuriant tone she handled Violetta’s coloratura with ease, her top thrilling if occasionally under supported. Her Violetta had an exquisite nature from the outset with no sense that she was capable of any exploitation. Gloriously guileless she was a lamb to the slaughter. As her geeky lover, Alex Aldren’s ringing tenor was full of ardour. With a naturally warm tone, his voice was very easy on the ear but he had a tendency to sacrifice consonants on the altar of his smooth legato which was a pity. Lawrence Wallington’s Père, clearly relishing his role, felt like a cut-out villain. Only later was it evident that he was a politician. What a shame that couldn’t have been revealed earlier, it would have brought a thrilling new dynamic to his encounter with Violetta. I don’t believe for a minute this complete bastard would have been prepared to admit his culpability.

They were all ably supported by the comprimari Emma Muir-Smith, Carola Darwin, WeiHsi Hu, Jack Naismith, David Booth and Aleksi Koponen. The choruses usually something to forget in these paired down performances were a full-voiced treat and the orchestra under Sam Evans was sensitive and sympathetic.

Verdi: La Traviata - Hampstead Garden Opera - (photo © 2018 Laurent Compagnon)
Verdi: La Traviata - Hampstead Garden Opera - (photo © 2018 Laurent Compagnon)
Whilst dramatically the evening may not have brought me any great insights the angel investor can be thrilled enough that the Hampstead Garden Opera put their money to good use, their productions well worth seeking out. Libiamo!

Verdi La Traviata
Jackson’s Lane theatre - Friday 25 May 2018
Hampstead Garden Opera

Violetta : Eleanor Ross
Alfredo : Alex Aldren
Germont Père : Lawrence Wallington
Flora : Emma Muir-Smith
Annina : Carola Darwin
Gastone : WeiHsi Hu
Duphol : Jack Naismith
Grenvil : David Booth
Marquis : Aleksi Koponen
Music Director : Sam Evans
Director : Sophie Gilpin
Designer : Anna Bonomelli
Elsewhere on this blog:
  • George Benjamin & Martin Crimp's Lessons in Love and Violence  (★★★★½) - Opera review
  • A heart in exile: pianist Lucy Parham talks about her latest composer portrait - interview
  • Prophetiae Sibyllarum:  Gallicantus (★★★★) - CD review
  • Interesting programmes, strange timing - homages to Lully and Louis Couperin  at London Festival of Baroque music (★★★★ / ★★★½) - concert review
  • Musical style is like a language: I chat to German composer Moritz Eggert  - Interview
  • Alan Rawsthorne - a portrait: Chamber music and woodwind concertos (★★★) - CD review
  • Unashamedly Romantic: Reynaldo Hahn chamber music from James Baillieu and friends (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Transcendent mysticism: Vaughan Williams' Mass from St John's College (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Te Deum: Purcell & Charpentier at Westminster Abbey for London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★) - Concert review
  • All-star Orfeo - Iestyn Davies and Sophie Bevan at the London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★)  - Concert review
  • Sonorous debut: Neil Ferris & Sonoro in Frank Martin & James MacMillan (★★★★) - CD review
  • Gilbert & Cellier: A work of real musical personality, The Mountebanks rediscovered  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Vivica Genaux & Sonia Prina recreate the music sung by two great castratos at the Wigmore Hall  (★★★★) - concert review
  • The story of a journey: Roderick Williams & Christopher Glynn in Schubert's Winter Journey  (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Welcome to the Magical Garden or perhaps the Garden of Magic: the piano music of Robert Saxton (★★★★) - CD review
  • Philip Venables' 4:48 Psychosis returns (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Home

1 comment:

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