In this stupendous revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata at the Royal Opera House, the 27 years old set design by Bob Crowley, still works magic as an ambience for the unfolding drama. The large wine cooler, in Act I, surmounted by what looks like a cupid carved from ice is just one of many thought-provoking touches to an opera that was initially intended to be called ‘Amore e morte’ (‘Love and Death’). Fortunately, the Venetian censors demanded a change. Verdi obliged and La Traviata was premiered at the magnificent La Fenice Opera House in Venice in 1853. It was a flop, mainly because the leading singers didn’t look the part nor were they able to sing the demanding scores. Fortunately, that fiasco was followed by huge successes.
Conducted by the Italian Maestro, Antonello Manacorda smooth liaison was accomplished between orchestra and singers. At no point did the orchestra overpower the singers.
Violetta Valéry, a beautiful young courtesan, immersed in the extravagance and hedonism of a Parisian lifestyle, finds love in the arms of Alfredo Germont. Social hypocrisy in the form of Alfredo’s father, Giorgio, forces an end to that union. Sent out of her country hideaway, she is back in the world she tried to escape from.
Lisette Oropesa in the touchstone role of Violetta is pitched perfectly, both visually and musically. Her soprano carries youth yet focus, joyfulness yet is penetrating throughout. She presents a woman with fierce determination, yet aware of the social obstacles and moral obligations. The clarity of her round voice superbly diffuses her emotions, aspirations, and social challenges with which she is forced to reckon with.
Violetta is Dumas fils’s La Dame aux camélias, who is in turn Marie Duplessis, a real young woman, a courtesan whose death, at the age of 23 (nearly 175 years ago), was mourned by some great and famous men. Watching and listening to Oropesa’s Violetta, the obituary by poet and novelist, Théophile Gautier, came to mind:
‘A young woman of exquisite demeanour … dark eyes, her aristocratic shape that marked her out as a duchess for those who did not know her … she was a duchess but her duchy consisted of Bohemia … by a twist of fate, she was born a peasant girl in Normandy’ [*]
Apart from Oropesa’s Violetta, the superb tenor Liparit Avetisyan gives a convincing performance as the passionate Alfredo, a role that is rarely achieved in operatic productions. The German baritone Christian Gerhaher
in the role of Giorgio Germont, the man responsible for the break-up, also offers an impressive performance. The entire leading cast as well as the rest of the cast secured the narrative’s realism that is so brilliantly embedded in its musical fabric, which translates on stage in a manner that even those not musically trained, gain a satisfying musical and dramatic experience.
The stamp of the director of this revival, Pedro Ruibeiro, is much in evidence. The dramatic performance, highlighting the conflict between father-son, the shift in Germont’s attitude towards Violetta, the ‘saintly courtesan’, is made clear in their first encounter in Act II. His hard tone and demeanour towards this fallen reveal early signs of softening and gestures of respect. The social norms layered with hypocrisy are superbly probed musically and dramatically in that first encounter between the two.
The dramatic tension is given momentary relief by the colourful and beautifully performed gypsy’s singing dancing and the matadors. They lighten up the atmosphere before the mood darkens.
The evening, in its entirety, can be summed up as memorable.
[*] René Weis ‘The Real Traviata’ Oxford University Press
- Music by Giuseppe Verdi
- Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave
- Based on a play by Dumas fils’s La Dame aux camélias
- Conductor: Antonello Manacorda
- Director: Richard Eyre. Revival director:Pedro Ruibeiro
- Leading singers: Lisette Oropesa, Liparit Avetisyan, Christian Gerhaher, Renata Skarelyte, Blaise Malaba, Stephanie Wake-Edwards
- Royal Opera House
- Until 18 April 2022
- Duration: 3 hours 20 minutes, including two intervals