Opera North: La Traviata – Leeds Grand Theater
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Directed by: Alessandra Talevi
Conductor: Jonathan Webb
The curtain rises on the Prelude to La Traviata, strings felted as Violetta sway seductively in the company of other young women. Everything is voyeuristic, a big eye follows their every move. Then Violetta’s party begins properly, lords and drunkards mingle with ladies in outlandish costumes. The assorted gentlemen are much more clearly defined than usual, notably the gloriously stupid Gastone of Gavan Ring. The orchestra and choir are now in great shape for Jonathan Webb, his debut at Opera North as a conductor already a triumph.
La Traviata proceeds alternately. After the thunderous party at which Alfredo falls in love with Violetta (ominous signs of his tuberculosis), we move on to the countryside for the first part of Act 2, a beautifully simple drawing by Madeleine Boyd. Here, among detailed exposition, we encounter the opera’s key scene, Germont pere begging Violetta to leave her boy.
She succumbs and the scene immediately turns into an evening at Flora’s and here we are again at the beginning – except that now everything escalates between Violetta, Alfredo and her former protector Baron Douphol. Alfredo is dishonoured, his father appears in time to chastise him. And so in act 3 where we return to the intimate: his servant Annina and Doctor Grenvil watch over his last minutes in the fortuitous company of the Germonts.
Watching a perfectly judged performance where every little detail counts, right down to the blood on the pillow or Violetta’s anguished reaction to the revelers in Act 3, we are first reminded of the superb staging by Verdi and its librettist Francesco Maria Piave, but then how skilfully Alessandro Talevi, reviving his 2014 production, interpreted the opera for a modern audience – nothing excessive, everything in its place, the spirit Carmen parody for Spanish dancers, for example.
La Traviata requires a slew of named roles, all executed beautifully: worldly, but infinitely likeable Amy J Payne as Annina, Victoria Sharp, not her best voice, but beautifully flamboyant as Flora, James Cleverton holding on tight to his rights as a Baron, Matthew Stiff darkens as the Doctor in his maroon suit away from the party, and so on.
That leaves the main three, all double-cast parts. Alison Langer paces herself, the first party scene delivered in style, then a surge to an unbearably moving death scene, death itself beautifully handled. Maltese tenor Nico Darmanin seems a little stiff at first, vocally and playing, but is he just the country boy in Paris? Either way, he takes the initiative from Langer and plays his part in the desperately moving final scene. Damiano Salerno, like Darmanin a debutant from Opera North, brings presence and a soft legato tone to Germont, one of the most ambiguous characters in opera – aside from his own admission that he did wrong!
It’s opera at its best, nothing to scare the horses off in terms of director’s opera, but a degree of involvement that comes from all the elements coming together.
Until October 29, 2022, before continuing the tour.