Composer: Guiseppe Verdi
English translation and director: Jane McCulloch
Reviewer: Jonathan Baz
Opera UK’s La Traviata is an ambitious production from this modest but energetic company. Verdi’s tragic work, one of the most well known in the canon, paints an epic tale of honour, sacrifice and love. Grand tales however demand a grand staging and with the relatively cavernous jaws of London’s Bloomsbury stage often left gaping during this minimalist production, one senses that notwithstanding the demonstrable singing talent on stage, as a passionate work of opera this piece falls far short of ambition.
Jane McCulloch’s new translation does not help. While it is a credit to the performers that every word has clarity, this 2013 libretto lacks splendour with dull phrasing oft repeated. McCulloch also designed and directs and thus it might be hoped that she could have foreseen the pitfalls that were to detract from this classic story’s impact. And quite why she chooses to use 1938 Berlin as the setting for any reason other than to show off the Baron’s particularly dapper Nazi uniform, is actually quite unfathomable.
Alison Guill was the ailing Violetta. Initially disappointing, she warmed up to be vocally delightful, though leaving this reviewer unmoved at both her sacrifice and her sickness. Christopher Diffey playing her lover Alfredo is also vocally wonderful and displays some strong acting but again, a performance that fails to move. The strongest male on stage is the beautifully baritoned Adam Miller as Germont. Replete with cane and immaculately groomed beard, he is every inch the proud father, desperate to end his son Alfredo’s love affair with Violetta and thus preserve his daughter’s honour. While good at the superficialities of pomp and bluster, when it came to the desperately tragic scene of his disowning Alfredo, again the theatrical magic evaporated, maybe due to the tedious libretto or maybe through the staging. Either way, what is meant to be gut-wrenching isn’t, and by the final scene one is just wishing Violetta would get on with it and die.
Elsewhere, Rachel Farr’s Flora was a charmingly performed supporting character, as too was Matthew Duncan’s Baron.Stephen Hose conducts his four fellow musicians flawlessly, though opera at the Bloomsbury demands more than a quintet for an effective sound. Small orchestras work best of all in small venues.Opera UK are to be praised for their promoting of young talent and their singers possess a vocal excellence that one can look forward to enjoying as careers mature. But next time, a different venue might be more advisable.