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 Valery – Angela Gheorghiu
Alfredo Germont – James Valenti
Giorgio Germont – Željko Lučić
Flora Bervoix – Kai Rüütel
Annina – Sarah Pring
Dr Grenvil – Richard Wiegold
Baron Douphol – Eddie Wade
Gastone de Letorieres – Ji-Min Park
Marquis d’Obigny – Changhan Lim
Guiseppe – Neil Gillespie
Messenger – Charbel Mattar
Servant – Jonathan Coad
Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Richard Eyre – Director
Bob Crowley – Designs
Jean Kalman – Lighting
Jane Gibson – Movement Director
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 8 July, 2010
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
I wonder why some people come to the opera. This first-night performance of the latest revival of the Royal Opera’s 1994 production of “La traviata” – with Richard Eyre returning to direct and Angela Gheorghiu reprising the title role of Violetta in the staging that propelled her back-then into the top rank of singers, had much going for it. Additionally there was another tenor making his Royal Opera debut in a major role, Željko Lučić reprising his solid and charismatic Giorgio Germont, and a supporting cast that blended experience and newcomers. Why then was a significant proportion of the audience so very noisy and ill-mannered? There was a large number of coughers who thought they were at a “Consumptives Conspicuous” convention, determinedly interrupting the most poignant and quiet moments of the score with a barrage of hacking – most distressingly so at the end of the Act Two encounter between Violetta and Germont senior. The level of chatter – during the music – in the area where I was sitting was unacceptable, add to which a ‘percussion section’ comprising a cohort of metal-bangle wearers – silver bracelets are undoubtedly an attractive fashion adornment, but my god they clink and clatter! Don’t these people think? Or have any awareness? Such inconsiderate behaviour betrays a lack of involvement in proceedings and disdain bordering on contempt for the artists performing and playing, as well as an astonishing disregard for fellow members of the audience. At the end of the opera, they seemed to have enjoyed participating in this “fun show” (I quote).
For those paying attention the performance was stimulating and of international standard. With revivals as taut as this the Royal Opera is seen at its artistic best. The return of the original director seems to have brought focus to much of the dramatic interplay between the characters. This was evident from the start where within minutes the petty jealousies and partnerships amongst Violetta’s party-guests were strongly delineated – Eddie Wade’s pompous Baron Douphol, Kai Rüütel’s sympathetic, emotionally perceptive and tactfully diplomatic Flora Bervoix and Richard Wiegold’s compassionate Dr Grenvil. Each made their cameo characterisations with point both dramatically and vocally. Small yet telling details linger in the memory such as Grenvil demonstrating his awareness of Violetta’s medical predicament, by subtly passing her a handkerchief to smother her coughing when we first see her having an attack. This continued through the evening. Ji-Min Park was an ebullient and carefree Gastone and Sarah Pring reprised her spiky yet ultimately loyal Annina, really making her presence felt. Richard Eyre’s production wears its years well, and Bob Crowley’s sets were atmospherically lit on this occasion.
Of the major roles, Angela Gheorghiu remains one of the most credibly beautiful Violettas, and she looks stunning in that black dress she wears for Flora’s party. (Incidentally there is an interesting foyer display of costumes from previous La traviata productions in the ROH at present, many from the fondly remembered Visconti production.) Gheorghiu’s voice has become fuller and darker since the production was new, and this certainly adds veracity to her interpretation in the later acts. She has an uncanny ability to draw you in, especially when singing piano and this really helps add life to the character’s more introspective moments. Interestingly there was no applause at the end of ‘Ah, fors’e lui’ before ‘Sempre libera’. That was the one moment where there really was silence in the auditorium. Perhaps her acting periodically has become somewhat overtly ‘operatic’ – the sobs, coughs and mutterings rather obvious, and in the first act the skittish elements of Violetta’s nature were overplayed. Sometimes a degree of stillness would be welcome, but nobody has yet surpassed that final kinetic flight around the stage before expiring. Occasionally Gheorghiu seems to be experimenting with vocal effects at the expense of musical accuracy and ensemble, and there were moments where she and the orchestra seemed to be racing one another.
The Royal Opera seems to have a monopoly of introducing new tenor talent alongside the world’s soprano stars. Recently we met Vittorio Grigolo playing Des Grieux opposite Anna Netrebko’s Manon. Now we are introduced to American James Valenti, who made a credibly young, impetuous and emotionally labile Alfredo. Tall and elegant he was entirely credible as Violetta’s young lover. Moreover, he has a nice sappy, fluid and masculine tone. He sounded a trifle ill-at-ease at the end of ‘O mio rimorso’ but thereafter his was a creditable performance and made an auspicious debut. Hopefully he will return.
Željko Lučić sang Giorgio Germont with rounded and pleasingly gravelly tone. This is really some voice and we should hear more of him in Verdi’s big baritone parts. He’s a forceful acting presence, too. This patriarch is not beyond acts of violence in bullying his son. Yves Abel led an on-the-move performance, one thankfully free of extremes, and with transparent textures. The ROH Orchestra continues to be on thrilling form.