Grange Park Opera asks “How can one go through life and not see La Traviata?” Probably quite comfortably for some, although if you have never seen this classic work, then Lindsay Posner’s new production is absolutely the right place to start, since it’s unfussy, narratively clear, fresh without being patronizing, and it offers orchestral playing of rare sensitivity. Oh, and the singing is pretty good, too.
Claire Rutter was the leading ENO ‘house soprano’ for some time, bravely taking on major roles in such controversial productions as the ‘coke and shagging’ Don Giovanni and the ‘plotters-on-the-bog’ Ballo, so she has plenty of experience in being required to do daft things such as contemplate plunging into a swimming pool whilst popping a couple of ‘ludes and swigging from the dregs of a cocktail shaker – but fortunately she only had to do that sort of thing once, for the most part being allowed to give us her vulnerable, even noble Violetta without too much extraneous business. The part is a stretch for her at times – for whom is it not? – but she delivers where it matters, most especially in her death scene, where, despite being the picture of glamorous good health herself, she manages to convince you that she is expiring of a wasting disease.
Marco Pannuccio is a new name to me, and the director has clearly decided that his Alfredo is to be presented as the amiable doofus type (as opposed to the passionate romantic) – he makes it work, mainly because this is a voice which, despite a quite heavy Verdi and Puccini CV, suggests Mozartean delicacy and sweetness. Damiano Salerno’s Germont senior was clearly a house favourite, with strong command of the dramatic needs of his role, although his fine baritone seemed a little under pressure at times. Olivia Ray’s confident Flora made a very strong impression, and there were well judged cameos from Timothy Dawkins, Christopher Jacklin and Matthew Stiff, as the Baron, the Marquis and the Doctor respectively.
Gianluca Marciano conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra with great panache, and he was rewarded with playing at a level which would not have been out of place in the pit at the ROH: the singers were given plenty of room to breathe, the big chorus pieces were accompanied with gusto, and the instrumental passages achieved the rare distinction of sounding chamber-music-like yet dramatically apposite. The ‘ensemble’ of singers, mostly young and up-and-coming, provided crowd scenes in which nearly everyone had a back story, expertly conveyed by Nikki Woollaston.
The production sets the drama near Hollywood, and, for the ‘country house,’ somewhere in the desert. Does it work? Partly yes – although Vegas might have made more sense – and it allows Richard Hudson’s designs and Paul Anderson’s lighting plenty of opportunity for striking stage pictures, many of which are very beautiful indeed. The black-and-white costuming, the cocktail bar and Flora’s town house are all delights, but some might find the desert setting for Act II a bit disconcerting, given that Alfredo’s dad is trying to persuade him to come home by reminding him of the warm sun of his native land – Provence not exactly being warmer or drier than Arizona. At least the saddle which Alfredo was lovingly polishing was a Western one…
La Traviata is more or less sold out for the run, but returns will surely be available – if you can’t get to this one, there’s what sounds like a wonderful production of Peter Grimes, not to mention forthcoming ones of Queen of Spades and Don Quichotte, all three of which have a very few seats remaining at the time of writing.
If you have not been to Grange Park yet, then you should simply rush there this season: the semi-ruined mansion is a wonder, and the theatre a little gem. Not only will you experience some innovative productions and fine singing, but you’ll find the surroundings as blissfully bucolic as you could hope for, with acres of space for picnicking in front of glorious vistas, or if you prefer in tents which look as if they have come straight from a production of Die Entführung. The staff are all brimming with enthusiasm for the place, the atmosphere is totally unstuffy, and you just won’t be able to stop yourself muttering things like Et in Arcadia ego.