Thursday 14 February 2019

Verdi in Oman: La Traviata at the Royal Opera House, Muscat

The Royal Opera House, Muscat
The Royal Opera House, Muscat
Verdi La Traviata; Kristina Mkhitaryan, Arturo Chacón Cruz, Plácido Domingo, dir: Marta Domingo, Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Massimo di Palermo, cond: Domingo Hindoyan; Royal Opera House, Muscat Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 9 February 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A sparkling Kristina Mkhitaryan rescues a performance by numbers

Royal Opera House, Muscat
The Royal Opera House, Muscat
What to do after a day lounging in the sun on the Omani coast? I know it’s a filthy job but somebody’s got to do it. Turns out, if you are of a mind, you can hie thee to the technical marvel that is the Royal Opera House, Muscat. The multiform theatre can transform from an intimate 1,100 seat opera house into an 850-seat shoebox-style concert hall with the push of a button. It’s impressive. This modern Omani palace of limestone and stucco rises from the craggy desert surroundings sparkling in the twilight. The interior replete with teak panelling and marble draws its visitors towards the grand staircase and into the auditorium.

The performance at the Royal Opera House, Muscat on Saturday 9 February 2019 was a production of Verdi's La Traviata with a long history. It premiered at the Opera Royal de Wallonia in 1997, a co-production with Washington and Los Angeles Opera. Now a Royal Opera Muscat production with the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Massimo di Palermo, it was lent some star power by Placido Domingo as papa Germont. The tragic heroine was sung by the Russian soprano Kristina Mkhitaryan with the Swiss-Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón Cruz as Alfredo and Irish-Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta as Flora. It was conducted by Domingo Hindoyan and directed by Marta Domingo.

The opening in Violetta’s chocolate box garden did not augur well. Less than sparkling tempi were interwoven with the sort of lazy dramaturgy that gives amateurs a bad name. Lots of histrionic arm waving and otiose subtext. Subtlety was in short supply, Violetta giving us the full nine yard consumptive stagger toward a shadowy figure. Who he? Just Omar Kamata as Baron Douphol hamming it up like some villain from a Sennett comedy. Meanwhile Annina, Anna Bordignon, dressed like a grisette was enthusiastically greeting guests like long lost friends, the implications of which were never explored - so best not to think too hard. Following a particularly lack lustre “Libiamo”, Violetta’s care worn “Oh, qual pallor!” without so much as a glance at a shiny surface felt like a comment on the performance.

Arturo Chacón Cruz’s Alfredo channelling his inner John Snow had a ringing top, but for all his rakish charms seemed less than convinced of his own part in this melodrama and his propensity to push his voice made for some uncomfortable listening.

The audience was all expectation for the big draw Placido Domingo. Whilst still a commanding presence and an elegant Verdian his familiar timbre jarred in the ensembles and for the first time, in my experience, he seemed vulnerable, his musical surety now uncharacteristically wobbly.

Thanks in large part to Kristina Mkhitaryan we were rescued from the artistic doldrums. Her honey toned voice, easy charm and not inconsiderable technique managed to inject some badly need sparkle into our prematurely flattened fizz. It was in acts 2 & 3 though that I found her at her most vocally compelling. Her ability to convey Violetta’s underlying morality and the dramas genuinely heart aching poignancy utilising her delicately spun pianissimi was thrilling and is no doubt why she has drawn comparisons with Netrebko. A voice really worth seeking out.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

The Royal Opera House, Muscat
The Royal Opera House, Muscat
La Traviata
Royal Opera House, Muscat
Saturday February 9 2019
Violetta : Kristina Mkhitaryan
Alfredo : Arturo Chacón Cruz
Germont : Plácido Domingo
Flora : Wallis Giunta
Gastone : Saverio Pugliese
Baron Douphol : Omar Kamata
Marquis D’Obigny : Dario Giorgelè
Dr. Grenvil : Nicholas Brownlee
Annina : Anna Bordignon
Giuseppe : Pierro Luppina
Director : Marta Domingo
Conductor : Domingo Hindoyan
Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Massimo di Palermo

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