Magazine article The Spectator

Opera: La Traviata; the Immortal Hour

Magazine article The Spectator

Opera: La Traviata; the Immortal Hour

Article excerpt

Neither OperaUpClose's La traviata nor Finborough Theatre's production of Boughton's The Immortal Hour quite cut it

La traviata

Soho Theatre, until 14 September

The Immortal Hour

Finborough Theatre

Perhaps I should come clean straightaway and admit that, despite the fact that OperaUpClose is about to celebrate its fifth birthday, I'd never been to see one of its shows before last week. This has not been a conscious decision; maybe, though, I'd been unconsciously put off by the company's early braggadocio -- by the manner in which it gleefully trumpeted the Violetta-like decline of 'traditional' opera so that it could offer itself up as a timely cure. I can't say that I've ever been attracted, either, by the prospect of a luscious Puccini score reduced for three instruments, or of singers, many only just out of music college, tackling demanding roles in tiny venues -- the company, unlike other smaller operatic outfits, has never shied away from the big staples of the repertoire.

If I've stayed away up until now, though, others have come flooding: OperaUpClose has proved enormously popular and it has inspired a wealth of other small-scale companies. Robin Norton-Hale, one of the company's founders and the director of its La traviata , also acknowledges in a chatty programme note that it's now rather more settled as part of the operatic establishment. Besides its production of Verdi's classic, which opened in Islington's King's Head Theatre last autumn and has come to the Soho Theatre after being on the road, two further OperaUpClose productions (Tosca and The Elixir of Love ) are currently on tour.

La traviata follows the formula of previous stagings, with Norton-Hale producing an 'English version' that is a colloquial, free reworking to fit a new dramatic context -- here the 1920s in America. The score is reduced, but is otherwise performed by and large with an earnest sense of respect, the exception here being a jazzy reworking of act two's toreador music played on a gramophone. The cast is cut down to five, with several secondary characters fused together: the crowd scenes, as a result, become cosy gatherings of people who all already know each other rather well; the clashes between private emotions and their public revelation is lost.

There are times when it feels like trying to take in a grand Veronese from a couple of feet away. …

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