Magazine article The Spectator

Opera the Opera of All Operas

Magazine article The Spectator

Opera the Opera of All Operas

Article excerpt

La Traviata Royal Opera House, in rep until 25 January;

Oper Graz, directed by Peter Konwitschny, Arthaus 108036 As I'm not the first person to have pointed out, the Royal Opera has indulged in a truly phenomenal number of performances of La Traviata this season, in the largely traditional production by Richard Eyre, which opened in 1994 with Angela Gheorghiu making her name. The three main roles have been cast differently for these three runs of performances, of which the last has just begun.

It's the kind of production that allows plenty of scope for individual interpretations, and in the many revivals I have seen of it the two outstanding pieces of casting have been the Alfredo of Jonas Kaufmann in 2008, which showed how interesting this usually wooden role can be with an interpreter of genius; and the still more remarkable account of Germont by Simon Keenlyside a couple of months ago; while Anna Netrebko, also in 2008, was the best of the Violettas I have seen.

It so happens that I got a DVD of the opera to review, at the same time as seeing this latest revival, of a performance given in Graz on 11 March last year, and directed by that ancien enfant terrible Peter Konwitschny.

The production, as one would expect, is at the opposite pole from Eyre's, with the director's training in Brechtian theatre apparent at every moment. There is a 20-minute bonus, quite engaging, of Konwitschny talking about the work ('the opera of all operas' he calls Traviata, though this is his first assault on it) and rehearsing some of its key scenes.

He thinks that Violetta is the only live person in the work, Alfredo merely being someone - anyone - to love, and being directed accordingly as a nerd in a duffel coat and wearing glasses (always the sign of a hopeless, helpless character in opera), and his father a piece of social machinery. I was inclined to the latter view until Keenlyside make me realise how much Germont is, or can be made to be, a fellow-sufferer.

Konwitschny introduces a character, too:

the daughter whose fiance won't marry her while her brother has an affair with a courtesan. This daughter, however, has plaits and shares the family's visual impairment, and seems to be about 14. Germont knocks and throws her around and it is Violetta who protects and comforts her. A shade heavyhanded, even for Regietheater - though Konwitschny insists he is not 'one of those'.

If you go on to Amazon you can see what fiercely opposed reactions this production has already provoked, and I think I share almost all of them. …

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