Richard Eyre’s production of Verdi’s grand masterpiece La Traviata is made for everyone, yet for those who do not enjoy the sight of period costumes may stray far away. I support the 19th century traditional staging, here, which gives the audience a glimpse of the play La Dame aux camelias or Alexandre Dumas’s novel, which were the influences behind Verdi’s opera.
Eyre’s staging recounts the bourgeois lifestyle of Victorian Paris, revived by Bob Crowley and Andrew Sinclair. It’s enchanting traditionalism and classical vantage point of the Parisian aristocracy is brought to life by warm hues, symbolising the passion instilled in our heroine’s story.
Admittedly I’ve seen Richard Eyre’s production three times which tells you probably a lot about my interest in the production, let alone the opera. In 2014, Violetta was sung by Ailyn Pérez which I saw at a BP live broadcast at Trafalgar square, then in 2016 I watched as Sonya Yoncheva broke everyone’s heart at the Covent Garden.
Last night, as part of ROH’s 2017 programme, Joyce El-Khoury sang as Violetta, adorned with elegant Victorian couture as the Parisian demi-monde.
The first time I saw the Lebanese-Canadian soprano was at the Royal Festival Hall two years ago with Opera Rara in Donizetti’s Les Martyrs. I recall her spiritual and evocative singing back then, and now it seems her vocal abilities has proven growth, radiating warmth and effortlessly charm, particularly with those dazzling high notes she graced the Covent Garden with last night. Her depiction of the beautiful courtesan was also original. Whilst capturing the fragility of a victim of a fatal disease her positioning was pragmatic and psychologically stronger – ready to die, but live for the man she loves.
El-Khoury was accompanied by Sergey Romanovsky as Violetta’s lover Alfredo and Artur Rucinski as the dominating father. Romanovsky is vocally primed for the role of a besotted Alfredo who has a stylish, Italian sheen to his voice, though, his characterisation is much simpler and stuck on one gear – to love Violetta and nothing more.
Standing out a little more was Rucinsky who had a starry stage presence as the father who destroys the bond between the lovers, and made the tragedy of the opera compelling. The baritone’s glossy voice was rather grandiose in tone too. I’d relish the chance to hear him perform again.
However, there were a couple of things I noticed about the conducting of Daniele Rustioni, which made me believe I was listening to an entirely different version of Verdi’s opera. I had an inkling there were different melodies and instrumental harmonies I was hearing here. Rustioni definitely showed zeal and confidence of his knowledge of Verdi, yet this was Rustioni’s interpretation the audience was listening to which made me feel like I had learnt something new. My only concern was that it may have influenced the way the audience experienced the singers. For Romanovsky and El-Khoury I was expecting some high notes in certain parts, yet there were moments when this wasn’t possible. Perhaps this was down to first night nerves, which was a little disappointing, though, this didn’t compromise my overall experience of the opera as a whole.
The Picador and Gypsy dance, with Spanish flamenco and matador dances in act II scene I, were also, and always are, a thrilling display in its own right. The Royal Opera Chorus were much more tough in the final scenes, whilst in the beginning they sounded rather wobbly. This is a minor observation that can be improved after a few more rounds of singing on a staged Parisian Salon. There is no doubt this production will get better by the second or third performance.