WA Opera triumphs in La Traviata at His Majesty’s Theater with Samantha Clarke & Paul O’Neill
A traumatic return for Violetta Valery, tragic heroine of Verdi’s romantic opera La Traviata, was a triumph for Washington-raised soprano Samantha Clarke at His Majesty’s Theater on Thursday.
In her WA Opera debut, Clarke inhabits the consuming courtesan – the “fallen woman” of the title – with power and pathos, drawing out every nuance of a tormented role with supreme control of tone, expression and dynamics. , until the tear. conclusion.
She is well matched with tenor Paul O’Neill as occasional lover Alfredo and baritone Simon Meadows as her overbearing aristocratic father Giorgio in a new co-production with Opera Queensland and State Opera South Australia.
Sarah Giles-inspired staging, Charles Davis’ clever design, and Paul Jackson’s kaleidoscopic lighting complete the charm.
The curtain rises on serene ropes and a double scene: on one side the bon vivants of Paris are frozen, like cartoons, in a miasmic red light; on the other, Violetta cleans up after a customer, who rewards her and leaves.
Secret misery and public bonhomie set the stage for her “downfall” when Gastone – Matthew Lester, a polished comic film – introduces her to Alfredo. O’Neill is suddenly the amorous swain who, put on the spot, finds his lyrical chops in a toast to love, the ever-popular Brindisi.
Violetta’s full-throated rebuff – “love is fleeting and fast” – leaves nothing for later, the two principals alive in the moment on a star-studded cast and the WA Opera Chorus with the finely honed WA Symphony Orchestra under the constant baton of Chris van Tuinen.
As the crowd drifts away, Alfredo haunts Violetta in her workplace, the boudoir, and his response is as sublime as it is frank – “go get someone else” – the duo divided by concrete and institutional walls .
The crowd returns at dawn in tableau form, like a well-heeled Hogarth caricature, while Violetta ponders, tortured but still melodious. She’s delicate too in her solitary reverie, as the sun rises through the window with her self-realization.
Intervening almost sadly in the anthem of the courtesan Semper libera – “always free” – she joins in a glorious dance with the orchestra until Alfredo rings the bell offstage, with echoes of Romeo and Juliet.
As Act 2 opens, a quick revelation unites the two in Violetta’s rural retreat; the first of several clever scene changes that maintain the private: public divide while allowing the action to unfold, opening up an inside-outside view with an infinite perspective.
Alfredo is “just like in heaven”, assisted by a devoted Annina (Brianna Louwen) who lets loose the first seeds of destruction: they are broke, invoking his guilt — O mio rimmorso — a sudden mood swing followed by a another to solve the problem; O’Neill perfectly capturing the hesitations of an inadequate hero.
With Violetta alone, sinister orchestral tones invoke Machiavellian machinations as Giorgio enters to destroy the stage.
Alfredo’s angelic sister cannot marry if the family is tainted by Violetta’s reputation, so she must step aside, knowing that death by consumption is all she can hope for.
Meadows’ dark but insistent tones and Clarke’s bittersweet surrender—”Men are fickle,” she sighs—underscore society’s betrayal of women, as Giles notes in the program: “These doubles standards and this hypocrisy of the time are breathtaking and yet incredibly familiar.”
Violetta’s layered pastoral dress and desperate grace belies the grim reality of hope forsaken as she seals her own fate.
“Love me as I love you, Alfredo,” she pleads and leaves; leaving Giorgio advising his distraught son: Di Provenza il mar, il suol — “Who erased the sea and the land from your heart.”
Despite the French setting, the pair capture Verdi’s Italian vibe in a ‘T’, complete with behind-the-scenes tragedy.
History repeats itself after the intermission – the second time as a farce, with a strong burlesque flavor.
Another lively party pits Alfredo and Violetta, who now have Baron Douphol (an explosive Mark Alderson) in tow, as courtesan Flora (a vibrant and irrepressible Fiona Campbell), Marchese (ripped and rugged Lachlann Lawton in voice and gesture), and Dr. Grenville (Robert Hofmann on his musical theater courage) complete the plot.
Spanish dancers – athletically portrayed by Luci Young and Macon Riley – are absent, but Alfredo tempts fate with the Baron (“Lucky in Cards, Unlucky in Love”) and provokes Violetta, whom he then insults; roughly.
Here, a #MeToo moment is reversed as Alfredo is condemned: “Even in anger it is despicable to insult a woman,” says Giorgio, albeit with jaw-dropping hypocrisy, and the chorus of displeasure draws one of Clarke’s most beautiful and angelic moments.
Careful work with surtitles follows the individual lines of the soloists and choir as the vocal lines merge seamlessly across the stage.
Finally, pity reigns as the opportune mob melts away, Violetta strips off her finery and retires to her deathbed.
His aria, Addio, del passato – “Farewell, happy dreams past” – rings with crystal clarity as Dr. Grenville gives him “just a few hours” to live; a sentence pronounced in a ghostly and hospitable luminescence.
When Giorgio writes to make amends, Violetta grants forgiveness in broken tones.
Then Alfredo returns for a reconciliation on his deathbed, their duet Parigi, o cara – “Paris, my darling” – heartbreaking in its desperate hope, revealing the human frailty that even deep love cannot mend; tragic and transcendent in its fragility.
Perhaps only opera can capture mortality in such compelling terms: Violetta fading away sonically over ethereal strings and funeral brass; the supporting quartet provides dark relief as a solo violin serenades its last breath in a dreamlike sequence, closing in a whisper of hope.
La Traviata is at His Majesty’s Theater until October 29.