I had the privilege of seeing Hampstead Garden Operas’ 1960s production of La traviata (my review here), yet I missed out on English National Opera’s alternative production that received mixed reactions from the critics. I was quite keen to see their version of Violetta lost in The Day of the Dead-style graveyard, having strange encounters with the licker man.
Last month, Opera Holland Park opened their 2018 season also with La traviata, yet their production went back to the classic and elegant 19th century, where the story had begun. There is not one controversial aspect about it, which does the production a huge favor in my humble opinion.
Alexandre Dumas fils‘s novel, La Dame aux camelias has been paramount to Verdi’s composing of the opera which influenced contemporary films, including Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Shortly after the opera’s premiere at the Le Felice, Venice, on March 6th, 1853, Verdi dubbed the story as ‘a subject for our time’. He was referring to the era’s prevailing disease, namely tuberculosis. No antidote was found until the 1940s. Director Rodula Gaitanou raises this point further by opening the opera with what can only be described as heavy breathing. Behind a white veil, we can see Violetta gesturing her hands on her chest taking slow, deep breaths. Only after a few seconds of this audio recording do we begin to hear Verdi’s score.
I attended the Opera Holland Park Young artists’ performance on June 11 and can say with confidence that they shined, and gave a beguiling and spectacular show. Cordelia Chisholm’s versatile ballroom set designs with gold trimmings and attractive Victorian costumes demonstrate how equally rewarding setting up a traditionally 19th-century opera can be.
Alison Langer is quite the star soprano. Her voice sounded round, consistent and beautiful. Her performance of ‘Sempre libera’ was spirited, elegant and seemed effortless. A true marvel to see on stage. Stephen Aviss’s own Alfredo was warmly performed with superb acting as Violetta’s romantic and bitterly confused lover. While the smooth-voiced baritone Aidan Edwards sang with a great stage presence as Alfredo’s father, Germont. Edwards played Germont as a genuinely and emotionally aware authority figure without having to show pithy sentimentality, which worked compatibly on stage as well.
The chorus singers of the OHP Young artists also deserve their due for recreating thrilling and entertaining scenes for The Picador, matador and gypsy dances. This includes skillful soloists Alys Roberts, Mike Bradly, James Corrigan, Felix Kemp, Aaron O’Hare, Robert Jenkins, Ian Massa-Harris and Alistair Sutherland.
Watching conductor Harry Sever perform with the City of London Sinfonia was a complete game-changer. Their execution of Verdi’s sensitive music captured every detailed emotion our heroine. Violetta felt. The merits of their performances was observed almost immediately, from the moment the overture began. Also worth pointing out are the brass musicians. Even though they were spread across both sides of the pit, which sounded a bit different, this didn’t distort the musical experience for those familiar with La traviata.
One can learn many things from Opera Holland Park’s production. Mainly that stripping an opera of novelty and sensationalism and bringing it back to the text doesn’t necessarily render a production boring or unoriginal. In fact, when executed well it can do wonders and, indeed, please a crowd and more.
La traviata is now showing at Opera Holland Park until 23 June. Tickets available online here.
(I was provided a press ticket to review the show.)[Header image: Stephen Aviss as Alfredo and Alison Langer as Violetta. Opera Holland Park Young Artists. Photo provided by OHP Marketing (Opera Holland Park). ]
— Trendfem.com🌸🎶 (@MaryGNguyen) June 11, 2018