As an infrequent and slightly trepidatious opera-goer, I welcomed the opportunity to see La Traviata. One of the most performed pieces in the canon, from one of the most revered composers, performed by a company with an enviable international reputation, in a purpose-built venue – the temptation was too much to resist.
There was also the fact that we were promised a traditional presentation of a piece first performed in 1853 (although it was not an immediate success). Every director has the right, of course, to put his or her stamp on a classic text; it is always valuable, however, to experience one as the author may have intended. Although, in the case of La Traviata, censorship meant that it was not performed as Verdi might ideally have preferred it, in his lifetime. This is, after all, the story of a young lady who “entertains” men for a living, the title translating as “the fallen woman”.
Kang Wang and Roland Wood
It’s a classic tale of “boy meets girl, boy’s father gets girl to dump boy, girl dies of horrible disease”; based on Dumas’ The Lady Of The Camelias. The tragic denouement is prefigured in director David McVicar’s treatment of the story (re-staged by Sarah Crisp), by having the hero, Alfredo, played by Kang Wang, wander disconsolately in front of the apparently half-built (or half dismantled) set, as the deceptively jaunty overture plays.
Pretty soon though, as the curtain rises properly, we find ourselves at a “party” in mid-19th century Paris, at which many apparently affluent men are enjoying the company of eager-to-please women. Amongst the men is Alfredo, who shyly introduces himself to Linda Richardson’s courtesan Violetta (a role shared, as the tour progresses, with Anush Hovhannisiyan).
It turns out that he has been observing her for a while, and claims to have fallen in love with her. Violetta is flattered, never having experienced true love before. Through the showpiece aria which concludes a brief first Act, (“È strano! …”) she even briefly entertains the idea of a meaningful relationship, despite relishing the freedom she currently enjoys, her poor health notwithstanding.
Three months on, however, Violetta and Alfredo are living blissfully together in a rural retreat, her consumption (i.e. pulmonary tuberculosis) has improved, and both are happy. This is until the question of financing their lifestyle arises; not to mention the arrival of Alfredo’s disapproving, moralistic father, Giorgio, played by Roland Wood.
Needless to say, it does not end well.
Linda Richardson is highly appealing as Violetta, somehow managing to convince as a fragile woman despite filling the auditorium with a flawless soprano. Wang is equally impressive as Alfredo, both vocally and in terms of conveying his character’s impetuousness.
Linda Richardson and Kang Wang
The trickiest role, in terms of drama, is that of Giorgio, who is forced to play the villain, against his better nature; Roland Wood conveys this conflictedness with admirable grace. And Sian Meinir, as Violetta’s faithful maid, is a solid presence as the concerned onlooker.
All of the vocal performances are, as one might expect, excellent, and the ensemble is deployed very amusingly in the party scenes, McVicar, Crisp, and choreographer Andrew George never allowing us to forget that we are amongst prostitutes and their clients.
Tanya McCallin’s set is as richly textured as the costumes; and the orchestra, under the baton of James Southall, gives us a warm, bright interpretation of Verdi’s score, which comprises a succession of melodies which even the non-aficionado will recognise. And the surtitles, in both Welsh and English, are also much appreciated.
Since this was my first “La Traviata”, I have no idea how it compares with other productions, in objective terms. All I can say is that as well as being profoundly impressed with the skill on display, I found it very moving; and the audience response as the curtain fell was highly enthusiastic.
A beautiful treatment of a troubling story.
Further performances at WMC September 30, October 4, 6. Venue Cymru, Llandudno, 17, 19.