Intimate Traviata

7 Aug

La traviata, for me, works best when it’s intimate and when the relationships and characters are properly delineated so that we can identify and empathise with them. That’s why Glyndebourne, with its intimate auditorium and long preparation time has the potential to do an outstanding production of it. And, even if their latest production by Tom Cairms didn’t quite make the “outstanding” list, the performance I saw on 5th August had a great deal going for it.

The preparation time showed here. This production had been incredibly thoughtfully rehearsed – you felt that each member of the chorus had a particular personality and that the relationships among the minor characters had been well thought out. Just as an example, I don’t think I’d ever noticed the servant at Flora’s party who announces dinner. Here, the role was shown clearly. The servants at Violetta’s place in the country were fully in the picture and had personality. Oliver Dunn’s Marquis D’Obigny and his relationship with Hanna Hipp’s Flora again was really well drawn. Eddie Wade’s Baron, Graeme Broadbent’s Doctor and, particularly Magdalena Molendowska’s Annina had strong, truthful personalities and acting. They were real people.

Then the casting was excellent. I have a hunch that this season is particularly rich in the “you heard them first here” aspects of Glyndebourne casting and, with Venera Gimadieva’s Violetta, it strikes me that we have a major star in the making. Here is a very beautiful voice and one for whom the role appears to hold absolutely no technical terrors. She sings the words with real clarity and colour – I loved the way she did the opening of Ah fors e lui to Annina – conversationally so that, for the first, time I realised what that line was about and that there had been a dream of “the one”. Her Dite alla giovine was very affecting and she conveyed the inherent goodness of Violetta. Others have moved me more and, as she sings it more often, I hope that she’ll develop the ability that Cotrubas and Miriciou had to stop my heart and move me to tears with their singing – but this is a very special voice indeed and I’m hugely looking forward to her Manon at the ROH.

Michael Fabbiano impressed me in the ENO’s Lucrezia Borgia and here he made a really interesting, gauche Alfredo who sang the role impeccably and, again, displayed a really attractive tenor, with a strong sense of style and good acting. We’ll hear a lot more of him.

Tassis Christoyannis was a slightly disappointing Ford here in 2009 but here made a very, very good elder Germont. He didn’t just sing it beautifully, making his cabaletta make sense, but also conveyed a character who never quite understood
Violetta until it was far too late – offering her money after she had capitulated in Act II and bringing out all the heavy guns of the father in his scene with Alfredo.

Mark Elder’s conducting, predictably, gave lots of pleasure and insights. The score was absolutely complete (second verses of absolutely everything but with a nice variation to all of them). I loved the way he pointed the orchestral details so that you were aware of them, but they didn’t distract – the precise articulation of the strings in the Germont/Violetta duet gave real pleasure. Companies often give Traviata to their latest pet routinier and it was a joy to a hear a major conductor deal with the score.

I’ve often felt sceptical about Tom Cairns as a director but was impressed by this production. it feels like a series of flashbacks from Violetta’s deathbed. It’s in modern dress and we’re not quite clear exactly what she is dying from. Hildegard Bechtler’s sets are quite stark – a bare grey curved wall, providing different spaces – possibly a little sparse but allowing you to concentrate on the acting. And, as I’ve suggested, it was the clarity and conviction of the acting that carried this production through. He achieved two heart-stopping moments. The first was in the second Act finale where it actually looked as though Alfredo and Violetta might get back together in spite of it all and Germont stopped them. Then, at the very end, Violetta was left entirely on her own and, as she felt that she was recovering, walked towards a white light, alone in her death.

Looking back on it, the most memorable Traviatas that I’ve seen have been the ones that specialised in the intimacy and the relationships and which were in theatres small enough for those to come across: Jonathan Miller’s for Kent Opera in 1979, Annabel Arden’s for Opera North in 1997 or those, like Konwitschny’s at ENO whcih took a particular take on the opera. This production was in the former category and if, in the last resort, I’ve been more moved in others, it was a joy to see the opera treated with such care and intensity and in a theatre where it fits perfectly.

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