Tag Archives: La traviata

Second Glyndebourne Traviata

27 Aug

Glyndebourne’s experiment this year was to have a very long run of Traviatas with two casts.  As well as giving lots of people the opportunity to see a popular opera, they also saw people like me coming.  I saw the first lot on May 31.  I saw the last night with the second cast on 27 August, the last night of the season.

Tom Cairns’s production actually looks better from further back: you get more of a sense of the different spaces in the party scenes and you still get the detailed acting of the excellent Douphol and Grenvil of William Dazeley and Henry Waddington, respectively.  It remains an intelligent, strong production.

The three leading roles were new.  Joyce El-Khoury was the Violetta.  She created an isolated, passionate individual.  Her singing was very strong indeed, convincingly managing the different demands of the role.  She’s at her best in Sempre libera and in the scenes with the elder Germont.  While I admired the technical expertise, my doubt was whether she created any of the heart-stopping moments that a great Violetta does.  I was not involved as much as I wanted to be.

Atalla Ayam was the Alfredo, less gauche and less well-acted than his predecessor, his voice is warmer, his personality more passionate.  He made a good, convincing Alfredo.  he didn’t even try for the high notes at the end of the cabaletta and I wondered how much Violetta, in the end, really mattered to him.

Dmitri Platanias was the Germont and the most luxurious casting.  It’s marvellous to hear the strong, sheer luxurious sound of a baritone in its prime in a house that requires no straining.  His acting didn’t strike me as being the original in the world and, if anything, the scene between him and Violetta didn’t strike me as quite as immediate as it did with the first cast.  But this was exceptionally classy singing.

Stefan Soltezs conducted – a late replacement.  I admired it a lot.  The first phrases of the prelude were stretched as far as you could imagine with comfort and it made an immediate statement about the opera.  He accompanied the singers considerately and, I thought, built up the Act II finale as impeccably as anyone I’ve heard.  This was unfussy, very natural Verdi conducting which didn’t seem to feel the need to make every point.  The LPO was in excellent form.

It’s been a decent, if not a great Glyndebourne season.  The interest came from the Hipermestra and the Hamlet, both worthy efforts but neither exactly catching light.  The revivals have been of a high standard and highly enjoyable, but it’s one of the few seasons in my recollection where I can’t think of an evening where you come out thinking “It really doesn’t get better than this”.  There was a lot of enjoyment and all the shows were very strong, but none have quite captured the magic of Glyndebourne at its best.

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Glyndebourne’s engaging Traviata

4 Jun

“Did you think that ending was outrageous?” asked an excited American lady as I queued for coffee at the end of the performance of La traviata at Glyndebourne on 31 May.  I thought that she was referring to the moderately controversial ending of Tom Cairns’s production, where Violetta dies alone.  But no, it was to the end of the opera itself: that the woman, who was about the only one in the opera not at fault, should be the one who dies and ends up apologising for it.  She was right, of course, and it’s the reaction Verdi would have wanted. And I thought that it was great that a newcomer could react to an opera so freshly and intelligently, reminding me how easy it is to take this piece for granted.

I think it was also a tribute to Tom Cairns’s production that, while not being outstanding is, in fact, a very good, clear, thoughtful version of the opera.  It often happens that the second showing of a production here improves upon the first and this felt more settled and secure than in 2014.  If there are problems, I think it they are to do with Hildegard Bechtler’s set which feels strangely cluttered and ugly and with the modern setting: our social mores are very different today and there are occasions, particularly in the Germont/Violetta duet where this becomes naggingly worrying.

There was, pretty much, a new cast and a very, very strong one.  It’s perhaps worth noting the lesser roles that are so important in Traviata and which were cast from strength.  William Dazeley, for example, made the best Douphol that I’ve seen simply through his experience and authority (and he sang it very well, too): his acting and presence were crucial in creating the wider milieu and context.  Ditto Henry Waddington as Grenvil, creating the sympathetic outsider who is also part of the revelry (I loved him hastily hiding the evidence of a night on the tiles in Act III) and singing it really well.  The casting throughout, right to James Newby’s single line as the messenger at the end of the first scene of Act II – clearly, authoritatively delivered but presenting a character as well.  These included a vital, flirtatious Flora from Rihab Chaieb, an elegant Marchese from Daniel Shelvey and a passionately concerned Annina from Eliza Safian.  These, and the excellent chorus, clearly having a high old time with some really detailed characterisation and acting, reminded you that Glyndebourne really has the time to prepare things from scratch.

Kristina Mkhitaryan was the new Violetta.  She is rather special. She looks beautiful and elegant and she acts the part beautifully – you felt that she was the only one of the cast who really understood the implications of what was going on and she created a highly sympathetic, intelligent character.  Vocally, she sounded more comfortable in the conversations than in the show pieces: Ah fors’e lui better than Sempre libera.  I’ve heard individuals (Cotrubas, Miriciou) make more of some of the passages and present a more sparkling, emotional figure, but she was a very satisfying, vulnerable, striking Violetta and I’d like to hear her again.

Zach Borichevsky sang Alfredo on the tour in 2014.  He’s strikingly tall and provides just the right gauche, young, thoughtless, impulsive character.  I don’t think that I’ve seen a more convincingly acted Alfredo.  Vocally, he was stretched by the end of his cabaletta but, that apart, sounded good and sang as if he meant it.

Igor Golotavenko was the Germont.  It was a joy to hear this baritone again after the joys of Poliuto.  Off hand, I can’t think of another voice that sounds more “right” for this sort of role.  The sound is burnished, bronzed and seems to flow effortlessly.  His phrasing is thoughtful and, I don’t think I can recall anyone who has given me quite so much sheer pleasure from his singing in this role or the sheer glory of the sound.  I was less taken by his acting which didn’t really seem to have got into the role.  He did some nice things – suggesting the sexual attraction he also feels for Violetta and in trying to manage the relationship with his son but he made me realise what a very difficult role this is to put across convincingly these days.

Richard Farnes conducted, pacing the score very well indeed and accompanying the singers very thoughtfully.  Perhaps he focussed a little too much on the details but I enjoyed the way he brought ou, first the oboe and then the cellos in Dite alla giovene.  The LPO played very nicely – the clarinet as Violetta writes to Alfredo marvellously phrased.

This may not go down as one of Glyndebourne’s great, unforgettable occasions, but it was typical of what the place does well: a fresh, beautifully prepared evening with keen singers and musicians, giving a very, very good take on the opera.  And, if it brought out that reaction in a newcomer, that suggests that it got very close to complete success.

Thoughtful Traviata

15 Nov

After last night’s half full Bartered Bride, I was getting concerned about Newcastle’s opera audience.  At least the Traviata tonight (14th November) was just about sold out and there was a warmth in the auditorium and a sense that there was a nice mixture of people who knew their opera and those for whom this was a first visit to an opera which, by my calculations, hasn’t been done here for over a decade.

They were treated to what struck me as a thoughtful, intelligent, imperfect performance but one where the pluses hugely outweighed the doubts.

The first act was the least good.  The prelude seems to consist of a video of the TB bacillus developing and close-ups of the internal parts of the lungs.  I wasn’t convinced that this was either helpful or necessary.  We begin in a sleazy party in the 19th century.  It’s good to be reminded of exactly what Violetta’s profession is even if the execution of it looks almost as cliched as the David McVicar Rigoletto.  There’s a very promising, young looking Alfredo from Ji-Min Park who sings softly and uses the words, a really good Douphol from Peter Savidge and a vocally excellent Violetta from Hye-Youn Lee.  What I missed from her, though was any individuality or sense that she had a clue what Violetta was about in this act.  Her Sempre libera was pretty stunning, though.

The second act improved considerably.  Visually, it looked absolutely right – a simple blue cyclorama and almost bare stage was all you needed.  Mr Park sang his aria really well – he looks young and gauche and caught the sheer simplicity and inexperience of Alfredo.  Roland Wood’s arrival as Germont raised the temperature even further.  From his entrance he seemed to have the character right.  His opening lines made you feel that here is a real Verdi baritone and he and Ms Lee knocked sparks off each other.  The direction of the two of them was brilliant – the way in which they touched or reacted to being touched was enormously persuasive.  Ms Lee does misery beautifully and her expression as she wrote her letter to Alfredo was heartbreaking.  Mr Park did his realisation of her desertion really well and the relationship with his father was wonderfully developed – the two of them sitting, father trying to communicate and failing was absolutely great – except that Germont’s cabaletta was cut.  It’s an interesting comment on what was once commonplace that now its absence feels wrong.  Mr Wood would have sung it marvellously.

The second scene was done very well and, for the finale, you had the spotlight on each of the principals as they conveyed, absolutely accurately, the different emotions.  I’m not sure, though, why the chorus had to sway.

In Act III, Ms Lee sang her aria (one verse only) well and movingly, the reconciliation with Alfredo was good, with Mr Park doing a fine, loving, tender, Parigi, o cara and completely rejecting his father.  The only thing wrong seemed to be the audience of masked men in evening dress who applauded as Violetta died.

I enjoyed Alexander Talevi’s direction of Don Giovanni here hugely.  Traviata doesn’t give quite the same scope for invention.  He was at his best in the direction of the characters and in some of the images – the two Germonts, back to back for Di Provenza for example.  Elsewhere it looked rather conventional or with ideas that just didn’t help.  I admired Madeleine Boyd’s single set hugely.

As I’ve suggested, the principals were good.  Mr Wood’s career strikes me as about ready to take off.  I’m not sure that I would like to hear Mr Park go to heavier roles than this, but he’d be a lovely Nemorino or Ernesto and Ms Lee has a really secure, technically excellent voice which is hugely exciting – again, a good Gilda, I should think.  Apart from Peter Savidge’s outstanding Douphol, the lesser roles were pretty much cast from Opera North’s chorus – and very well indeed.  If this is Opera North’s way of economising, it didn’t seem to me to compromise quality much.

The conductor was Gianluca Marciano.   I thought he conducted well but without the same certainty or thoughtfulness of Elder. He adotped some slow tempi – particularly for Alfredo in the Act II finale – and a nice rubato and you felt he knew what he was doing.  Orchestra and chorus were perfectly fine.

So this was the sort of alive, alert, thoughtful Traviata that I’d expect from Opera North.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good, enjoyable evening that deserved its really enthusiastic applause.  It’s worth a visit and it held up well against the other three that I’ve seen this year.

Family Traviata

12 Oct

You know that feeling when you’re watching a show with someone and they’re clearly not enjoying it.  And it infects you and you start to think what’s wrong with it and you cease to enjoy it yourself.  There is an opposite feeling which is that of sitting next to someone who is obviously completely spellbound by it.  That’s what happened when I took Emma, my niece, to see the Glyndebourne Tour’s La traviata on 11th October.

Family and friends had been sceptical.  How do you explain about courtesans?  It’s in Italian; she won’t understand.  That huge Germont/Violetta duet’s awfully long and then she just sings in the last Act.  I think this completely misunderstands how children approach theatre and opera.  Or at least how some do.  I remember seeing Cosi fan tutte when I was eight.  I found the arias a bit long but I could follow what was going.  I didn’t get the nuances; I was too young to understand the emotions but I was fascinated by the action, by sounds and the glamour of it all.  They don’t have to understand everything – that will come – but if you can find that they like the business of people singing when they should be speaking then, I would say, La traviata is as good an opera as any for them.  And Sarah Lenton did an excellent pre-performance talk that struck exactly the right balance between adult and children’s understanding.

The good things about Tom Cairn’s production that I enjoyed in the summer remain.  It’s well thought-through.  Time has been taken to plan and get the detail right.  The singers know what they’re singing about and convey it.  The moves and choreography are really well judged.  I remember two visual moments that we both loved.  The first is at the beginning of the Act II finale, with Violetta’s solo – she’s stood there, spotlit and all eyes are on her as she  explains what she feels about Alfredo.  The second was for Parigi o cara – the two of them sat on the flaw together, looking out, planning the future that cannot be – and this was helped by Zach Borichevsky’s really soft, gorgeous, tender singing of it.  The sets look a bit less cramped  if you’re sitting further back.  Above all, as I watched this I was aware of what a good opera this is – how perfectly paced, how wonderfully the music makes you understand the emotions.  In this respect, the contrast between this and the dismal ROH Rigoletto the other week, could not have been greater.

The cast wasn’t quite up to the summer.  Irina Dubrovskaya has the notes for Violetta and the technique to bring off each of the scenes.  She’s a sympathetic presence and acted convincingly – more obviously ill than her predecessor.  What I missed was the level of colouring, the ability to sing words and invest them with the meaning they need.  As I right, I’m listening to Gheorgiu sing the Act I aria and cabaletta, where phrasing and attention to the words are of the first order.  Dubrovskaya is good, but doesn’t grab you in the was the best Violettas do.

Zach Borichevsky makes a tall and gauche Alfredo and I admired his singing hugely.  I’ve mentioned Parigi o cara, but his Act II aria and cabaletta were really sensitively done.  He strikes me as a very promising tenor for this repertory.  He may not be quite as finished a tenor as Fabbiano, but he does excellently here. Roman Burdenko, familiar from the last Falstaff here, was a good Giorgio Germont, though there was a roughness about his voice and, again, not quite the same care about the words that his predecessor brought.

Eddie Wade repeated his threatening, excellent Douphol and Magdalena Motendowska her fine, concerned Annina.  Otherwise, the smaller roles were done a bit better at the Festival and came over more vividly there.

David Afkham had conducted the latter performances at the Festival and there was an awful lot of Mark Elder’s performance that I recognised.  There were the details in the orchestra throughout the Germont/Violetta duet and a great sense of pace.  I’m not complaining about this at all: I can’t think of many models I’d rather have for a young Verdi conductor and it was all of a piece for the opera.  The orchestra and chorus were both really excellent and the piece came across as a vivid, dramatic piece of theatre.  And the only thing that seemed wrong to Emma was Violetta being left alone at her death – and I could see what she meant.

When opera’s taken as seriously as it is here, it’s hard to imagine it not working.  Emma’s seat cost me £10 and she sat, watching it fixedly, listening.  She’s decided that she like opera.  What should be the next?  I think she ought to see the Copley Boheme before it goes and then if someone does a decent Barber or Figaro or Elisir, that would be the thing for her to learn that opera is fun too.

Damrau triumphs as Violetta

22 Apr

Traviata at the Royal Opera House is traditional, handsome, little that’s seriously unexpected and is a vehicle for individual stars to give their performances of the leading roles.  It keeps happy that part of the opera-going public that doesn’t like to be unsettled by productions.  It can hit and miss, depending on the cast.  This was my fifth visit in its 20 year history – Gheorgiu twice, Ansellem, Jaho (Netrebko cancelled…) and, now, Diana Damrau.  We see her too little at the Royal Opera House and I don’t think I’ve caught up with her since she did Gretel, before the world caught on to her talent.  So it was largely for her that I went to see the latest revival – the performance on 21st April.  It actually turned into rather a special evening.

Damrau is as good as the reviews say.  This was a wonderfully thought-through, gloriously sung, wholly individual Violetta.  As with all the best ones, she uses the words, understands them and means them.  She does the conversational passages really well – you feel that she’s talking to people and she colours the words with real intelligence. As she’s struggling to get up in the last act, the word “non posso” aren’t the usual burst of frustration, but sung softly, as if she can barely summon up the breath to speak.  She contrasts the brittle brilliance of the first act party with the sheer honesty of her duet with Germont.  You feel absolutely her love for Alfredo, the sense that she has no idea of how she will break the news to him and her huge desire to be accepted by him.  Dite alla giovine had an artless, honest, desperation about it, as if life was going completely blank.  And she sang Addio del passato with such attention to the words and the logic of the music that you felt the audience really listening – listening so hard that there was almost a surprise when it ended and a pause before the applause began.  Vocally, there wasn’t a weak or uncertain moment.  She made the part sound easy and real – there wasn’t an ugly or misplaced note all night, but the emotions came through movingly and true.  This was one of the Violettas that I’ll treasure, along with Cotrubas, Miriciou and Gheorghui (Netrebko was ill when I was meant to see her…) as being complete, outstanding interpretations.

I admired Francesco Demuro’s Romeo in Verona and he made a really excellent Alfredo here.  It’s not the largest voice in the world and he sounded stretched in those passages which needa bit of heft – the cabaletta to De miei bollenti spiriti, for example – but he can sing subtly and softly and with real tenderness.  I thought he did Un di felice and Parigi o cara wonderfully, with honesty, with glorious pianissimi and subtlety.  He looked good and presented a youthful, infatuated young man –  a really good foil to Damrau.  I hope he comes back.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky is an old hand at the elder Germont and a very, very good one.  It’s thoughtfully acted – you feel him unwillingly admiring Violetta,while he and Demuro suggested that there were all kind of things wrong with the father/son relationship here.  Vocally, I found him rather loud – he could have afforded to fine the voice down a bit more if only because it felt a little unbalanced with the others.  He sang Pura siccome un’angelo as well as we can expect and made the cabaletta to Di provenza so that it made sense.

Dan Ettinger’s conducting was not much liked by the reviewers and I know what they mean: he pulled the score about a lot, tempi suddenly lurched mid-phrase (the Act II finale was a particular example) and he sounded intent on under-scoring particular passage.  It didn’t all work but what I felt we had here was a very intelligent conductor looking at a score which it’s all too easy to take for granted.

Orchestra, chorus and other part were all strong without being anything particular to blog about, so I won’t

Richard Eyre’s production does its job very well.  There’s enough detail (Violetta asking a servant to bring Alfredo to her in the second scene of Act II) to convince you that someone has been thinking about it and enough freedom for great artists to bring their own qualities.  Bob Crowley’s sets manage to give you both the public and the private – the grandeur of the party scenes and the intimacy for the duets and the end.  It also enables performances that transcend the every day and, on its own terms, I thought the Traviata among the finest I’ve seen.  It’s worth catching and I hope that the management has taken the opportunity to sing her up for Elvira, Lucia and much, much more.

 

Welcome to Konwitschny

9 Feb

My first La traviata was at the Edinburgh Festival in 1979 – a production by Kent Opera directed by Jonathan Miller at the time when you felt that Miller was actually interested in opera and in what he was doing.  I still remember it fondly, partly because I hardly knew the opera and still remember the frisson of Alfredo’s intervention in Sempre libera and of following the Germont/Violetta scene as if it were a play.  It was sung in English, the sets were simple – delicate sepia tints and it was done with a concentration, simplicity and intelligence that got to the heart of the piece.  I’ve heard many musically finer performances but few which seemed about the whole opera.

This performance (I saw it on February 7th) came very close to matching and, in some places, surpassed it.  In my comments about ENO’s recent Carmen,  I worried about buying in distinguished directors’ productions and regretted that ENO can’t, these days, cast the leading role from within its regular singers.  The same thoughts apply but this evening seemed to justify the means in the way that Carmen didn’t quite.

Peter Konwitschny’s production is newer than Bieito’s  and is billed as a co-production, rather than one that has been bought it.  It’s already available on DVD, though, from the original Graz performances.  I might get it.

Konwitschny’s production is spare and contemporary.  The set is a series of curtains that can be opened to deepen the stage or bring the action closer to the audience.  The only piece of furniture is a chair for Violetta.  There is a pile of books for Alfredo and that’s about it.  He has re-invented the plot, which is set out in the programme and sees the opera, quite rightly, as a piece about convention versus individuality.  He creates a world in which men treat women as play things, using violence to keep them in order. In the Act III party, the guests wander round throwing cards around getting an air of decadence, of alienation.  Alfredo is the outsider, turning up at a black tie party in his slacks and cardigan and staying in those for the whole evening.  Violetta wears natty cocktail dresses in town and trousers, looking like an environmental activist, in the country.  I think we are meant to doubt that the relationship can possibly last.  The elder Germont brings his daughter to persuade Violetta to change her mind and it is his ill-treatment of the daughter that leads to Violetta’s capitulation.  It’s done without an interval and we were out in well under two hours.

Alfredo interrupts Sempre libera from the auditorium and, at the end, his father makes his entrance there making a wonderful separation from the two lovers.  Then Alfredo joins him and they watch Violetta, on her own, dying and going away from them.  It’s a wonderful effect, concentrating our attention, as it has been most of the evening on Violetta herself.

It’s a production which requires really detailed, thoughtful acting and where there is no hiding behind crinolines or in beds.  It’s cut – no dancing in the second scene of Act II, no chorus in Act III and no cabaletta for Di Provenza.  There is a real link, however, between the musical performance and what went on onstage and a rare honesty about the acting.  I was only really puzzled by one part – I don’t think it was clear enough what happened at the end of Act II – Alfredo didn’t throw his money at Violetta, I didn’t notice a challenge, there just seemed to be some kind of brawl and most of the curtains were brought down.  I don’t know what was going on there.

There were, however, three very fine performances indeed from the leads.  Corinne Winters is a talent to watch.  Vocally, she makes the challenges sound easy and manages both the exuberant coloratura of Sempre libera and the legato of Addio del passato with equal panache.  She found the passion for Amami, Alfredo and the pathos of Dite alla giovine.  This was combined with energy and an ability to convey visually the torture that Violetta goes through with absolute truthfulness.  I hope we’ll see more of her.

Ben Johnson was Alfredo.  It’s not a particularly Italianate sound but he sings stylishly and with attention to the words.  He was a believable bookish outsider.  Anthony Michaels-Moores’s elder Germont was outstanding.  The voice may not be as smooth as it once was, but I don’t think it needs to be for this role and I don’t know how anyone could not admire the way in which he opened the second stanza of Di Provenza – managing to be tender, soft and firm with his son.  He’s a fine actor and caught the stiff-necked, bigotted provincial to perfection.  The distinction between his treatment of Violetta, his daughter and his son was beautifully done.

The smaller roles were well enough performed with some very good acting indeed from all of them even if none made you sit up vocally.

Michael Hofstetter conducted, absolutely in tune with the production and got strong playing from the orchestra.

This was a production that, I thought, got as close to the heart of Traviata as any other than I’d seen.  It’s pared down and goes straight to the emotions and was rivetting to watch.  It made me angry and it made me think.  I didn’t, however, find it moving but perhaps that’s not the crucial thing here.  I’d urge anyone who loves opera to go and see it.