Longborough Festival Opera – Verdi’s La traviata – Claire Egan, Peter Gijsbertsen, Mark Stone; directed by Daisy Evans; conducted by Thomas Blunt

La traviata – Melodramma in three Acts to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after the play La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils [sung in Italian, with English surtitles]

Violetta Valéry – Claire Egan
Alfredo Germont – Peter Gijsbertsen
Giorgio Germont – Mark Stone
Flora Bervoix –Samantha Price
Viscount Gaston – Aled Hall
Baron Douphol – Eddie Wade
Marquis d’Obigny – Sion Goronwy
Dr Grenvil – Timothy Dickinson
Annina – Jenny Stafford

Longborough Festival Chorus & Orchestra
Thomas Blunt

Daisy Evans – Director
Loren Elstein – Designer
Jack Wiltshire – Lighting

Reviewed by: David Truslove

Reviewed: 23 June, 2018
Venue: Longborough Festival Opera, Longborough, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, England

Longborough Festival Opera – Verdi’s La traviataPhotograph: Matthew Williams-EllisLongborough’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.

Longborough Festival Opera – Verdi’s La traviataPeter Gijsbertsen, Mark Stone & Anna PatalongPhotograph: Matthew Williams-EllisLeading 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.

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