Opera + Classical Music Reviews

La Traviata: Pretty Yende and Angel Blue are heartbreaking at the Royal Opera House

2 & 4 April 2022

Another double helping of a Verdi classic.

La traviata

Pretty Yende & Stephen Costello – Angel Blue & Dmytro Popov (Photos: Tristram Kenton)

Back once again, and showcasing two exceptional sopranos as Violetta, the opera going public’s appetite for Richard Eyre’s traditional staging of Verdi’s masterpiece shows no sign of letting up, if these two well attended performances are anything to go by. Although I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve witnessed a selection of the world’s greatest sopranos rise from their sickbeds to tackle Violetta’s lap of death at the opera’s close – for the vast majority of the audience this was their first time, and it’s only fair to say at both these performances the audience went wild at the final curtain. It remains, at nearly 30 years of age, a bankable staging for The Royal Opera, and given the financial difficulties the Covid pandemic has caused, it makes commercial sense for them to keep bringing it back.

Of course, its almost ubiquitous place in the company’s rep can only be justified if it provides a showcase for exceptional singers. Luckily both casts lived up to those expectations. Saturday’s matinee performance began at 11.30 – early for singers, and if Pretty Yende took a while to find her feet, then this was probably a factor. In the first act her expertly schooled soprano sounded a shade too light for the House – ‘Sempre libera’ came across more internalised than it should, but by the second act her singing had taken on a glorious bloom. Her duet with Germont père revealed an ability to spin a seemingly endless musical line, sung on a thread on a tone, which held the audience spellbound. Affecting and heart breaking in the last act, her ‘Addio del passato’ and ‘Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo’ can have left few spectators unmoved.

“…at both these performances the audience went wild at the final curtain”

She was superbly partnered by American tenor, Stephen Costello, making a welcome return to the company after too long an absence. Like Yende, his voice isn’t huge, but he uses it tastefully and musically, and thankfully sang the notes Verdi composed. “Dei miei bollenti spiriti… O mio rimorso” was thrillingly voiced and sounded even better without the interpolated high C at its close. As his father Dimitri Platanias used his well-schooled baritone to telling effect, delivering a perfectly poised ‘Di provenza.’ Conductor Giacomo Sagripanti made an auspicious house debut and led an exemplary performance that was fresh, lithe, and supportive of his singers. As has become the norm, the orchestral playing was faultless.

On Monday evening a completely new team took over, although all three principals had sung their roles here in previous revivals – though not together. Angel Blue certainly has the voice for the role, but tended to over sing in the first act. There was a lack of light and shade in the high-flying passages of ‘Sempre Libera’, which gave the impression that she was afraid to turn down the volume for fear of losing pitch, but any quibbles were soon dispelled as she grew into the role, gained in confidence, and was quite simply devastating by the last act.

Ukrainian tenor Dmytro Popov has a large, exciting voice that had no problem filling the House, but he never forced the volume, and was particularly effective in ‘Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo’ – his and Blue’s voice complementing each other perfectly. Vladimir Stoyanov was dramatically alert as Giorgio Germont, and displayed a mellifluous baritone voice – and like his predecessor went on to deliver a pitch perfect ‘Di provenza’. In both casts all the supporting roles were cast from strength, while the company’s former chorus director, Renato Balsadonna, conducted a supple, singer friendly account of Verdi’s evergreen score. With such strong casts, it’s impossible to choose between them – but with either, you’re guaranteed a thoroughly enjoyable and moving night at the opera. Just don’t forget to take some tissues with you.

• Further details of future performances can be found here.

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La Traviata: Pretty Yende and Angel Blue are heartbreaking at the Royal Opera House