Longborough’s emotionally-charged La traviata relocates and updates pleasure-seeking Paris of the 1850s to the “here today, gone tomorrow” atmosphere of Hollywood’s film industry a century later. Sex is still for sale, but it’s now packaged in celluloid form. It’s a thought-provoking transformation as director Daisy Evans re-imagines Verdi’s Violetta not as a high-class courtesan and ailing consumptive but a film goddess whose decision to relinquish both her illusory life and lover Alfredo prompts depression (no tuberculosis here) and an early death.
Evans’s new production draws parallels between the fictional Violetta and the real-life Marilyn Monroe. This tension is underlined by the emotional vacuity of the film scenes and the intimacy of Violetta and Alfredo until torn apart by his father’s intransigence over her glitzy past and concerns for his family’s respectability.
The concept transfers well with a gratifying absence of directorial heavy handedness or unnecessary signage. Music and acting are free to work their magic. Act One opens onto a studio shooting a drama about Marie Antoinette fronted by Violetta (along with a very camp Viscount Gaston) and directed by Baron Douphol – the whole given verisimilitude by camera operators, make-up artists and wardrobe assistants – chorus members (later morphing into gypsies and matadors) designed and evocatively dressed by Loren Elstein. A single storey building (pastel shades, net curtains and a porch) provides a short-lived refuge for Violetta and Alfredo, while a bare stage later reinforces the hopelessness of her life as it spirals out of control.
Leading the strong cast is the exceptional talent of Claire Egan who pours her heart into Violetta, singing with complete assurance, dispatching coloratura as if born to it and producing a fine legato too. What’s more, she can act and is fully able to express feelings; Violetta’s passionate plea to Alfredo to love her (Act Two) is dazzling and the orchestral support here is tremendous. Later, as Violetta wrestles with her mental decline Egan gives a wonderfully moving vision of a cosy future huddled and delusional in the arms of Alfredo sung by Peter Gijsbertsen. He gets into his stride early on and there’s no mistaking his virile vocal apparatus, tender and passionate.
Mark Stone’s moralistic Giorgio Germont is initially too overbearing, but by the end he persuades with warmer tone and character. Among supporting roles Aled Hall makes a flamboyant Viscount Gaston, Eddie Wade an arrogant Douphol and Sion Goronwy a gloriously foppish Marquis d’Obigny. Jenny Strafford and Samantha Price both hold the eye and ear.
Thomas Blunt conducts with an intuitive understanding of the drama, pace eventually matching the energy and commitment from the stage.