sat 24/08/2019

La Traviata, Opera North | reviews, news & interviews

La Traviata, Opera North

La Traviata, Opera North

A fast-moving, well-cast production of Verdi's crowd-pleaser

Hye-Youn Lee and Ji-Min Park enjoy a happy momentPhoto: Richard H Smith

You’d expect a regional opera company to focus on the core repertoire in these economically challenging times. Happily, Opera North’s La traviata is a new staging and not a weary revival. Alessandro Talvi’s production doesn’t take many risks and shouldn’t offend anyone, but the whole is beautifully designed, well-acted and handsomely sung.

The one surprise comes as Verdi’s hesitant, restrained Prelude steals in, and we think we see Hye-Youn Lee’s Violetta gazing at a full moon. It's actually a wonderfully creepy projection made by video designer Gemma Burditt. It's as if we're staring down the eyepiece of a microscope; the tuberculosis cells which are stealthily killing Violetta dividing and multiplying as they invade her body. The fake endoscopy footage looks as if it’s been snitched from a C4 Bodyshock documentary, but it’s an effective, macabre touch, emphasising the darkness permeating this most accessible of operas.

Roland Wood’s well-characterised Giorgio can dominate the stage while seemingly doing nothing

Lee is a delight – how refreshing to see a Violetta who’s actually youthful. Her voice was in superb form: fearlessly confident in Verdi’s crueller high writing and able to reduce her tone to a whisper when required. She looks diminished as her health deteriorates, a shrunken, dessicated presence in the final scene. Ji-Min Park’s wide-eyed Alfredo is a charmer – an immensely likeable stage presence, bubbling with impetuosity. Act One’s two big duets sound freshly minted. Roland Wood’s well-characterised Giorgio Germont can dominate the stage while seemingly doing nothing. Witnessing his initially impassive character slowly gain our sympathy is compelling. His "Di Provenza il mar", sung to Alfredo, is as good as you’ll ever hear. La traviata should be as much chamber piece as grand 19th-century opera. Talvi’s staging emphasises this, the set for Alfredo and Violetta’s country house in Act Two is elegant and spare, offering us no distraction from the human drama.

The party scenes are wittily choreographed by Victoria Newlyn, the extras' actions in Act One amusing but never descending into crude salaciousness. The chorus are so well-drilled – en masse they make a terrific, sharply focused sound, even when distant and offstage. Act Two's party scene is brilliantly staged, while Madeleine Boyd’s set and costume designs are unfussy but effective. The smaller roles make their mark: Peter Savidge's Baron Douphol and Dean Robinson's charismatic Doctor are well characterised, and Louise Collett's fussy, affectionate Annina shines. Musically, all is well. Gianluca Marcianò, making his Opera North debut, leads a clean, sharp performance.

These players produce an idiomatic Verdi sound, the exposed high-string writing flawlessly accurate, winds and brass alternately seductive and pungent. Talvi's direction makes the action fly. This is a intelligent, affectionate, mainstream production, sung in Italian with unobtrusive surtitles – what's not to like? Prompted by a recent article on this site, I took an opera-novice neighbour along with me. He's not stopped raving about it.

The fake endoscopy footage looks as if it’s been snitched from a C4 Bodyshock documentary, but it’s an effective, macabre touch


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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