(4 / 5)
After the epic production of War and Peace, which opened Welsh National Opera’s 2018 autumn season, the ever-popular La Traviata – Verdi’s most performed and well-loved opera – comes as something of a relief. The fact that this is a second time round revival of WNO’s original co-production with Scottish Opera in 2009, with a more recent revival just four years ago, proves the point.
Basically a love story, with the doomed love of Parisian courtesan Violetta for the young bourgeois Alfredo Germont centre stage, the themes – thwarted love, duty and tragic death– are still relevant today, as they were back in the mid-nineteenth century, when the opera received its first performance in Venice. Wisely, McVicar has chosen to keep to the traditional, with a sumptuous period setting whose opulence fairly reeks of decadence, represented in voluminous black drapes sweeping across the stage at opportune moments. This effective device works well– unfortunately the same cannot be said of the onstage activity inserted before the overture.
With twos sopranos, both of whom are experiencded in the role, singing the role of Violetta on different dates sprinkled throughout the run, David Poultney, in his final year as artistic director of WNO, could hardly lose. Making her debut on the Donald Gordon stage at the Millennium, Armenian singer Anush Hovhannisyan, who previously sang the role with Scottish Opera, proved once again what a fine voice she has. Her pure soprano, coupled with her acting ability, makes her an ideal choice for the role – heart-wringing in the final scenes. Opposite her, as Violetta’s lover Alfredo Germont,.Australian-Chinese tenor Kang Wang, has a strong voice and, while needing to display a stronger persona in scene two of Act II, nevertheless shows empathy with the role, coming into his own in the tragic ending and in his duets with Hovhannisyan throughout. .Interestingly, both these singers represented their respective countries in the 2017 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in which Wang reached the main prize final.
Roland Woods’ sonorous baritone lends gravitas to the role of Germont pater, while Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, who hales from mid-Wales, is appropriately lively as the party girl Flora. Conductor James Southall’s interpretation of Verdi’s wonderful score is magnificent, as is the choreographing of the masquerade,by Andrew George and revival choreographer Colm Seery with some wonderful jumps and grands jetės executed superbly by the dancers.
An opportunity for the always reliable WNO chorus to shine and for the ladies to enjoy wearing the elegant gowns of the era, with their low cut bodices and the bustles favoured at that time, although the latter was a somewhat over-generous embellishment to Violetta’s gown in Act I , while in the second half the trousers of Alfredo’s suit appear over-long. Minor details – but why not get them right?
Overall, though, a revival that has stood the test of time.
Music: Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave
Director: David McVicar
Revival Director: Sarah Crisp
Artistic Director: David Poultney
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels