Tag Archives: Tom Cairns

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.

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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.