Opera + Classical Music Reviews

La traviata @ Royal Opera House, London

27 & 29 October 2021

La traviata is revived once more, with many casts. We covered the first two.

La traviata

La traviata (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Rarely out of The Royal Opera’s repertory since its first outing in 1994, Richard Eyre’s classic staging of Verdi’s tragic tale of the doomed courtesan, Violetta, has returned for a run of 27 performances. Given that it has already clocked up over 200 performances, the public’s appetite for this traditional take on Verdi’s opera shows no signs of abating. We caught the initial two casts and have to report the house was packed to the rafters for both.

By now we’ve lost track of how many times we’ve seen Eyre’s staging, yet Bob Crowley’s handsome designs still look fresh, and with revival director Pedro Ribeiro drawing telling performances from all the cast, there’s plenty of life left in it yet. True, it doesn’t deliver the kind of theatrical thrills and insights Konwitschny (ENO) or Decker (Salzburg, New York) did, but and it keeps The Royal Opera’s coffers full and provides a solid, workable backdrop into which singers can slot easily.

Given that there are six sopranos scheduled to sing Violetta this run, that will be of paramount importance. Having caused a sensation with her superbly sung Gilda (Rigoletto), which opened the season, Lisette Oropesa returned to perform Violetta for the first time at Covent Garden, and rightly brought the house down. Most of the world’s most illustrious sopranos have graced this staging over the years, but you’d have to go back a long way to find one with such prodigious talents as Oropesa, who embodies the role so fully.

With a rock-solid technique, she sounded completely at ease across every facet of the role – thrilling coloratura in ‘Sempre Libera’, dispatched with pinpoint accuracy and perfectly tuned runs, wonderfully spun lines, perfect breath control – and acted the role as if her life depended on it. Deeply moving in her Act II ‘Dite alla giovine’, heart breaking in the final act’s ‘Addio del passato’, she capped her thrilling interpretation with an emotionally shattering ‘Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo’, alongside her former lover, Alfredo, which left few, if any, dry eyes in the house. Without a doubt she is one of the finest, most complete Violettas to grace this staging in its almost 30 year history.

She was ably partnered by Liparit Avetisyan (who also sang opposite her in Rigoletto), who seemed far more at ease as her lovelorn suitor, than he had as the lascivious Duke. His voice bloomed wonderfully, had the right amount of Italianate ‘ping’, and he cut a credible figure on stage. Alone, and together with Oropesa, he was a joy to listen to.

“…the public’s appetite for this traditional take on Verdi’s opera shows no signs of abating”

As his father, German baritone Christian Gerhaher eschewed his usual velvety tone for something altogether harsher, which initially jarred. At times he was prone to resort to bluster, and his over-enunciation of the text often hampered the flow of the vocal lines, but he found his form to deliver an impassioned ‘Di Provenza, il mar’ in the second act, and exuded warmth and humanity at the close of the party scene.

All the smaller roles were cast from strength, and the chorus was on top form as the party revellers in the first two acts. Making his house debut, conductor Antonello Manacorda delivered a perfectly poised account of the score, always sensitive to his singers’ needs, and was rewarded with fine playing from all sections of the orchestra.

Two nights later, the alternate cast took over. With Wednesday’s performance still ringing in our ears, this cast had a lot to live up to. And by and large expectations were met. Russian soprano Kristina Mkhitaryan has a large, Slavic voice, with a nice bite to it. Once past a tendency to over sing, she settled down to give a committed, touching performance in the title role. More at home in the plaintive ‘Addio del passato’ than the coloratura fireworks of the first act, her deathbed scene was as moving as it should be.

As Alfedo, Frédéric Antoun was beset with tuning problems to begin with, and his covered tone meant his voice lacked the required bloom and strength to carry in a house this size. He seemed ill at ease most of the time but rallied in the last act – yet unfortunately his voice just doesn’t sound right for this kind of role.

Christoph Pohl sang firmly as Giorgio Germont, never forced his mellifluous voice, and like his compatriot in the first cast, gave a glorious account of ‘Di Provenza, il mar’. Each member of the supporting cast was excellent, with a particularly noteworthy Gastone from Thando Mjandana – an Alfredo waiting in the wings if ever we heard one.

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La traviata @ Royal Opera House, London