Welsh National Opera, Bristol Hippodrome and touring

SIR David McVicar’s staging for WNO of Verdi’s La Traviata, first seen in 2009, is revived by director Sarah Crisp under the youthful baton of James Southall for the Autumn tour.

Based on Alexander Dumas’ novel The Lady of the Camelias, it tells the story of French courtesan Violetta and her affair with Alfredo, a relationship which brings them true love before they are separated by society, disease and destiny.  Set in the decadent salons of late19th century Paris, this is a truly sumptuous production and possibly just as relevant today as it was when Verdi wrote it more than 160 years ago.

In last night’s performance, the role of Violetta was taken by Linda Richardson– one of two sopranos singing the role on this tour.  A favourite of WNO, she sang throughout with both vibrancy and composure. Her set arias were quite thrilling, covering a whole range of human emotion, and capturing both our hearts and our minds from the outset.

Making his WNO debut as her lover, Alfredo, was the young Australian-Chinese tenor Kang Wang. If his voice lacked a little in power at times, this was more than compensated for by warmth of tone and the intensity of his performance.  His Act I duet with Violetta, beginning with “Un dì felice eterea” and leading to their final “addio” was most definitely that of the lovesick young man baring his soul to someone rather more worldly wise.  We were completely rapt.

Alfredo’s father, Giorgio, was played by baritone Roland Wood.  Another gloriously rich voice and impressively dark at times, the outpouring of his soul, first to Violetta and then to Alfredo in Act II Scene I was pitched just right and provided one of the many highlights of the evening.  Much of the success of La Traviata depends on these three and by the end of Act II Scene II we could not help but feel for the wretchedness of all of them.

Other principal roles were taken by soprano Rebecca Afonwy-Jones (Flora), baritone James Cleverton (Baron Douphol) and contralto Sian Meinir (Annina) together with a number of soloists taken from the WNO Chorus. The chorus itself plays a significant part in the opera of course, from the opening Drinking Song onwards, and here it was a large one, fully involved and in fine voice.  Completing the cast, the bawdy gypsy dancers and balletic matadors at Flora’s party in Act II Scene II brought a touch of eroticism to the proceedings graphically revealing the lecherous intentions of the men.

The whole production was beautifully staged with Tanya McCallin’s lush black drapes dominating the set.  Largely monochrome, she used just the odd splash of colour – red roses in Act I for example or fleshy peach colours for the ladies in Act II Scene II.  Further enhanced by the atmospheric use of candlelight in Act I and the symbolic hint of dawn breaking in Act III, McCallin created something that was verging on the sinister, effectively highlighting the frailty of the characters whose lives were being played out before us.  The country house (Act II Scene I) was someone lighter in tone, but, for the most part, the heavy, brooding blackness was never far away.  There were some lovely effects too – the ghostly dancing figures in Act I, the swift swish of the curtains as we changed from Violetta’s bedroom to her living room in Act II Scene I and the interplay of darkness and light in Act III were memorable moments and added significantly to the power and intensity of the production.

There is one further performance of La Traviata in Bristol this coming Saturday or, failing that, you might be lucky enough to catch it at The Mayflower in November. For sheer beauty of melody, intensity of story and opulence of production this Traviata would be hard to beat.


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