Covent Garden Sees New Cast Perform Verdi’s La traviata With Mixed Results

18/01/2017

Verdi, La traviata: Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden / Daniele Rustioni. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 16.1.2017 (CC)

LaT

Joyce El-Khoury (Violetta Valéry) & Artur Rucínski (Giorgio Germont) © ROH/Tristram Kenton

Verdi, La traviata

Cast:
Violetta Valéry – Joyce El-Khoury
Alfredo Germont – Sergey Romanovsky
Giorgio Germont – Artur Rucínski
Flora Bervoix – Angela Simkin
Marquis d’Obigny – Jeremy White
Baron Dauphol – Yuriy Yurchuk
Doctor Grenvil – David Shipley
Giuseppe – Neil Gillespie
Messenger – Dominic Barrand
Servant – Jonathan Coad

Production:
Director – Richard Eyre
Revival Director – Andrew Sinclair
Designer – Bob Crowley
Lighting Designer – Jean Kalman

Re-experiencing Richard Eyre’s production of Traviata is almost like putting on a pair of comfortable slippers. The production premiered here in 1994 and this is its 14th (yes, fourteenth) revival; and it will resurface later in the season with eight performances between June 14 and July 4. I myself am no Eyre virgin: October 2011January 2012, January 2016 are all reviews of this production with different casts. I’ve said plenty about the production, expertly and atmospherically lit here by Jean Kalman (the shadow-play of the Carnival in the final act is especially memorable). But dynamics between singers vary on each occasion, even with the same cast, and conductor/orchestra rapport varies wildly between the runs. Here, it was the turn of Lebanese-Canadian Joyce El-Khoury to take the lead of the courtesan whose hard-earned domestic bliss is cruelly ripped from her by the Grim Reaper. El-Khoury took a while to settle, just as she did in the role of Pauline in a concert performance of Donizetti’s Les Martyrs over the river at the Festival Hall in November 2014. On this occasion, her voice only started to settle in her big Act I scene. Settle it did, after a reedy beginning to “È strano!”; at “Ah fors’è lui” we started to hear what El-Khoury is capable of. By the time we got to the final act, it was impossible not to be completely wrapped up in Violetta’s demise, the final “false resurrection” all the more dramatically powerful for the energy El-Khoury injected. This was, in fairness, El-Khoury’s Royal Opera debut, one that grew into one of some stature. She is no stranger to Violetta, though, having previously sung the role at WNO, Dutch National Opera, Canadian Opera Company and Savonlinna, so she is no stranger to the dots.

Her Alfredo was also a Covent Garden debutant, the dashing Russian tenor Sergey Romanovsky. He is a strong talent, for sure, and again he comes to the role experienced (most recently in Chile). His voice is pleasing, his “Libiamo” significantly more shaded than most. A more musical Alfredo that one often encounters, his acting abilities need a bit of spit and polish but his presence is undeniable. More, the pairing of Romanovsky and El-Khory led to a visually most believable couple.

Talking of visual believability, or in this instance the lack of it, Artur Rucínski’s Giorgio Germont was the youngest Germont père ever, surely. His voice is strong but, tellingly, not authoritative (we need to hear the core of determination at the heart of this character in this act). His “Pura siccome un angelo” was frankly on the drab side, a disconnection between singer and character that was only emphasised by the contrast of El-Khory’s ever-increasing sense of morphing into Violetta. I note that Rucínski left my colleague José Irurzun unmoved in the role of Luna (Trovatore) at La Fenice, interestingly also conducted by Rustioni (review).

A pleasure to see the experienced Elizabeth Sikora as Annina, a perfect bit of casting that found Sikora stealing the stage with her presence each time she was on. The voice, too, is in fine fettle. David Junghoon Kim was a strong Gastone; while David Shipley’s Doctor Grevil was another of the smaller roles to shine. Ukrainian baritone Yuriy Yuchuk was a believable and solid Baron Dauphol and English mezzo Angela Simkin, a newcomer to the Jette Parker scheme, made a fine fist of Flora.

When it came to the ensemble moments, the oversize gambling table of Act 2 Scene 2 was home to a group of matadors significantly less camp than in some previous runs, it has to be said. The orchestra/chorus synchronisation in the earlier parts of Act I was more than approximate at times (one knows when it goes past a certain level when one starts gripping the chair wondering if it will right itself). First night jitters, one assumes. Italian conductor Daniele Rustioni was a Jette Parker Young Artist in 2008/9 and has returned regularly. He clearly has a splendid ear for texture: the Act I Prelude not only glowed but was also exquisitely controlled. The standard of orchestral playing seemed to sing of respect for the conductor. And indeed detail was a hallmark of this performance. What’s missing is the large-scale understanding; the kind of understanding that holds together the long second act, especially the confrontations of its first scene.

A mixed La traviata, then. If Rustioni can marry his fine ear for texture with a true projection of the score’s longer-range trajectory, he could provide a fine account indeed.

Colin Clarke

La traviata performances continue at Covent Garden and for more information visit http://www.roh.org.uk/.

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