The Opera North Winter/Spring Season has kicked off with a classic. La traviata by Verdi has all the the core ingredients of an opera; forbidden love, death, redemption, family fall-outs, big scenes, quiet moments and bangin’ tunes!
The story is that of a glamorous Parisienne courtesan, Violetta, who, let’s just say, enjoys a good night out. She is currently seeing a Baron Douphol, but, whilst at a lavish party which he is throwing, a young man named Alfredo Germont takes her to one side and tells her that he has always loved her from afar. As he seems sincere and a lot more genuine than the rest of her ‘friends’ a relationship develops and they move to a house in the countryside just outside of the city. All seems well until Giorgio, Alfredo’s father, visits the house, where he finds Violetta alone. He tells her that he also has a daughter and it would not do her chances of marrying a nobleman any good if it were found out that his son is shacked up with a less than reputable woman. By this time the couple are deeply in love but she agrees to make the sacrifice and leave Alfredo to return to Paris. What no one else knows is that Violetta has sold all of her possessions in order to keep the country house so the relationship can continue. Not only that but she is in the grip of tuberculosis and does not have a great deal of time left to live.
When she is back in Paris she resumes seeing the Baron but one night, at another of his parties, Alfredo arrives and an obviously awkward situation arises. Alfredo and the Baron play cards and the former wins a large amount of money which he throws at Violetta in full view of the partygoers as a repayment for all that she had spent on them. Violetta takes a turn for the worse and all her friends forsake her except for, you guessed it, Alfredo who visits her at which time she dies in his arms.
As you would expect, there are other twists and turns but that is the bare bones of it.
Because, unusually for Opera North, the work is being performed on consecutive dates there are two performers playing the major roles. On opening night we saw; Alison Langer as Violetta, Nico Darmanin as Alfredo and Damiano Salerno as Giorgio. The three alternating performers are; Máire Flavin, Oliver Johnston and Stephen Gadd respectively. I have seen the brilliant Ms Flavin a few times and this is definitely not the ‘second team’ by any means.
As you would expect, the singing, acting and music, with orchestra conducted by Jonathan Webb, were all superb. The opera was directed by Allessandro Talevi; the Set and Costume Designer was Madeleine Boyd; Lighting Designer, Matthew Haskins; Choreographer, Victoria Newlyn; Video Designer, Gemma Burditt and Chorus Master, Oliver Rundell. I mention them all because this was a production reliant on everything being spot on and it was. The set was fairly complex, switching from rave venue filled with people, to country house sitting room, back to party central and then on to sparse bedroom. The costumes were of the mid-Victorian period, so lavish, especially in the party scenes, although at the end Violetta was in a symbolic simple white nightdress.
It was the video projections at the back of the set which were real atmosphere setters. The opera began with a plain white disc of light there, until a human eye began to peer through it. It was quite unsettling at first, very Big Brother – Orwell, not reality tv. This disc morphed into a dark version containing a constellation of stars, before becoming the moon in a sort of astronomical chart.
Another odd thing about the beginning of the piece was that the performers concerned didn’t sing for quite some time but were engaged in a kind of flowing dance with their arms raised, swaying from side to side. This made the all-seeing eye even more sinister.
I also liked that there were gaps in the surtitles which meant that once you had been given the gist of the story, you were left to concentrate on the action, rather than have it repeated.
I said in my article about the Opera North initiative Try It ON that I would let you know whether the works I review are suitable for first timers. Well, I have no hesitation in recommending this one as your ice-breaker. Don’t be put off by the running time of 2 hours 45 minutes because it was broken down into bite size chunks. The first Act was about 20 minutes after which there was a 20 minute interval. Not only that but it contained one of the most famous and best loved songs in the whole of opera. The second Act lasted about an hour but was made up of two scenes, a quieter one in a country house and a more raucous one at a party. Following a further 20 minute break the third Act was the denouement which was a real tear-jerker, so a lot of variety to make the evening enjoyable.
It is not difficult to see why this is considered one of the great operas, and this version, albeit the only one I have seen, was mesmerising.
For more details go to https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on/la-traviata-2022/ where you will find a trailer, a resumé of the story – complete with pantomime boos and cheers, and a link to Dates and Venues with another where you can book your tickets, and a further one to ‘New to Opera’ discounts etc. Enjoy!
All images provided by Opera North