Magazine article The Spectator

Opera: La Traviata

Magazine article The Spectator

Opera: La Traviata

Article excerpt

La traviata

Glyndebourne, in rep until 23 August

Norma

Opera Holland Park, in rep until 8 August

One of the highlights of last year's Glyndebourne Festival was the revival of Richard Jones's Falstaff , spruced up and invigorated by Mark Elder's conducting of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and a beautifully balanced cast. Elder is also in charge again for the festival's third new production of this year, Tom Cairns's La traviata , although with the London Philharmonic this time. His conducting is extremely fine once more, managing to be lucid and intelligent, thrillingly dramatic and lovingly shaped. The playing of the LPO is of supremely high quality throughout, while the cast features a genuinely exciting leading couple. Venera Gimadieva and Michael Fabiano, as Violetta and Alfredo, both sing with an almost languid, big-voiced ease that's a pleasure to witness. Her sound is creamy and penetrating, with Act I's fireworks cleverly and convincingly negotiated; his is virile and exciting, although perhaps a little unstintingly so at times.

They both look the part, too, and when Tassis Christoyannis's solidly sung silver-fox Germont père appears in Act II, he does so less as an alien invader to his son's world than as a convincing member of it. More than ever, the extended duet between Germont and Violetta exists as the opera's emotional heart, as well as its turning point: here Cairns's direction brings out exquisitely detailed acting from Gimadieva and Christoyannis, with Elder's conducting tracing the psychological to-ing and fro-ing with supreme musical intelligence. I can't remember the important difference between this profoundly moving dialogue and Germont's subsequent one-way lecturing of his son ever being so clearly delineated.

Otherwise the production -- updated to an unspecific, semi-abstract and smartly dressed modern world -- is often effective but largely anonymous. Hildegard Bechtler'sset features a velvet-upholstered curved wall on the right, a more austere one on the left, various minimal bits of furniture around and about, and a back wall for subtle projections (by Nina Dunn). Violetta materialises, gradually illuminated through a gauze, ahead of each scene before the rest of it appears around her. Act I opens with a tableau of formally dressed cigar smokers to the left, and a red curtain projected at the back, simultaneously bringing to mind two recent ENO Verdi productions: Christopher Alden's gentlemans' club Rigoletto and Peter Konwitschny's own fiercely concentrated take on Traviata . The decision to promote Annina from mere maid to confidante -- thankfully not over-emphasised here -- also reminded me of Dmitri Tcherniakov's disappointing 2013 staging at La Scala. …

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