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This David McVicar production of Traviata is nearly ten years old now but has lost none of its narrative force and emotional power. It is not a ground-breaking interpretation, but it effectively highlights the central conflict in the opera – between the vulnerable and good-hearted Violetta Valery and the callous and moralistic Giorgio Germont. And with fine performances in these central roles it makes for a very satisfying evening with Verdi’s masterpiece.
Violetta Valery is a high-class courtesan living a dissipated life in Paris. The young and naïve Alfredo Germont falls in love with her and, against her better judgement, she runs off with him leaving her old life behind to live in rural bliss. But Alfredo’s father intervenes and persuades Violetta to leave the man she loves. Alfredo is consumed by jealousy and, by the time he realises that they are both victims of his father’s bourgeois moral standards, it is too late.
When in 1853 the opera began its fraught journey from fiasco to the high status it enjoys today, Verdi had to tussle with the censors who insisted it be set in the distant past. Modern productions have found ways to set it in every conceivable time period but this production – set in fin de siècle Paris – is both appropriate and ravishing to the eye. The grand party scenes work very well, not just because of their visual impact and the way McVicar choreographs his crowd scenes, but also because the chorus of the Welsh National Opera is simply superb. I make no apology for starting with praise for this extraordinary group of singers, ably marshalled by Thomas Blunt. From the first bars of the opening chorus – which so often are sung just behind the beat – the WNO chorus are absolutely on top of the music.
Linda Richardson is a fine Violetta, negotiating the difficult moments of her Act 1 vocal pyrotechnics with style but perhaps more at home with the heart rending music of the final scene. Australian tenor Wang Kang as Alfredo does everything we hope for with the showpiece music of the Paris party and of the country retreat, but there was a lack of chemistry between him and Richardson which led to a loss of emotional focus as a distraught Violetta says her final goodbye to their love affair. The dramatic fulcrum of the opera – the extraordinary confrontation between Violetta and Alfredo’s father – is the highlight of the evening. As a stern and callous Giorgio Germont, Roland Wood gives a definitive reading of the role. His rich bass baritone voice has never sounded better and his disdain for the fallen woman who has ensnared his son never wavers. “Such airs,” he sings – rather than the usual “such dignity” – at their first meeting. This was a very special performance and, coupled with McVicar’s take on the story, it provided the dramatic core of the drama.
McVicar’s clear storytelling is very much a strength of this production, and the crisp tempos of conductor James Southall enhance the forward motion of the tragedy. There are miscalculated moments. The bullfight dance at the beginning of Act 2 Scene 2 is as usual an irritating interruption of the dramatic tension. And the way in which Violetta comforts Alfredo when, at the end of that scene, he realises that he has behaved appallingly in seeking revenge for her “betrayal” of his love makes little sense. But these are unimportant when set against such a fine production with singing that more than does justice to Verdi’s genius. The production now goes on tour to a number of cities including Oxford, Liverpool, and Birmingham – see it!
- By Giuseppe Verdi
- Directed by David McVicar (revival - Sarah Crisp)
- Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
- Cast includes: Linda Richardson, Kang Wang, Roland Wood
- Wales Millennium Centre
- Playing at various venues until 23 November 2018