United Kingdom Giuseppe Verdi, La Traviata (Sung in Italian with subtitles in English and Welsh): Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera / Simon Phillippo (conductor), Venue Cymru (North Wales Theatre), Llandudno, 1.4.2014.(RJF)
Violetta Valéry: Linda Richardson.
Alfredo Germont: Leonardo Capalbo.
Giorgio Germont: Charles Johnston.
Flora: Amanda Baldwin.
Annina: Sian Meinir.
Baron Douphol: Jack O’Kelly
Marquis of Obigny: Philip Lloyd Evans
Doctor Grenvil: Martin Lloyd
Gaston: Howard Kirk
Giuseppe: Michael Newton-Fitzgerald
Original Production Director: David McVicar
Revival Director: Sarah Crisp
Designer: Tanya McCallin
Lighting Designer:Jennifer Tipton
Original Choreographer: Andrew George
Revival Choreographer: Colm Seery
Chorus Master: Stephen Harris.
Immediately prior to each of the performances in this season of productions, entitled Fallen Women, there was a recorded statement by the Artistic Director of W.N.O. broadcast to the audience appealing for financial support for the company’s work. He also highlighted the fact that for every pound given, a generous commercial company would donate an equal amount, effectively doubling the money given!
The first offering of this titled season at Venue Cymru featured David McVicar’s stylish production of La traviata, a co-production for Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera and the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona. First seen in Llandudno in Autumn 2009 and reprised in March 2012 it is the kind of revivable banker that every opera company needs in its repertoire in these days of economic restraint. It joins the likes of the company’s Madama Butterfly, Tosca and Barber of Seville, the later shared with Opera North. All are well-known titles and popular enough to draw the non-specialist. Equally important, all these productions are imaginative and in no way offbeat Regietheater; they can be guaranteed to attract good audiences, and so it was this evening with a well-filled theatre.
The reigning diva of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Renee Fleming, contends that La Traviata needs three different types of soprano voice for the role, one for each act. She herself waited until her forties before giving it a go.; tWNO featured Cheshire lyric soprano Linda Richardson in the eponymous role; tall, slim and elegant she had the exact figure du part to convey the part. If the coloratura in the opening act tested her somewhat, her acted interpretation was excellent, and she really came into her own vocally as well in the following two acts. She overcame any discomfort that might have arisen with the late replacement of Alan Opie as Germont in the Act Two confrontation with her response to his demands she leave Alfredo, acting and singing with utter conviction to bring out he drama of the scene. In Teneste la promessa in Act Three as she reads the letter from Alfredo and then raises herself for the desperation of É tardi and Addio del passato she brought outstanding pathos and meaning to the words. Her portrayal and singing reached histrionic heights when handing her portrait to Alfredo and referring to the innocent girl he will marry.
In the 2012 presentation of the opera at Venue Cymru, the scheduled tenor withdrew to be replaced by Leonardo Capalbo. In this run of performances he appeared again, the third tenor scheduled for the role. Slim of figure and bounding about like a lovelorn youth his was a good all round performance, notably matching Miss Richardson in phrasing and beauty of tone in the poignant Act Three duet Parigi o caro. Substituting for ailing veteran Verdi baritone Alan Opie, Charles Johnston acted convincingly albeit somewhat short of tone at the top of the voice. Amanda Baldwin, another replacement, as Flora had also featured previously in this production and did so again with vocal comfort and acted commitment.
The minor soloists were all adequate and the chorus all that we have come to know as among the best. The period costumes (fin de siècle rather than1850s I suspect) and the subtle use of curtains facilitated the drama. If the dunb show of furniture movers or assessors that preceded the opening chords of the Act One prelude seemed gratuitous – and even inappropriate, as Violetta has only the bare minimum at her death and twenty Louis in her purse, the ethereal chords of that opening prelude promised much. It was fully realised by the orchestra under the idiomatic baton of Simon Philippo on the rostrum. All the pathos with which Verdi invested the melody was fully realised; he is an asset in the Italian repertoire.
Many in the audience were there for the season of three operas. If they had known, on this first night, what was to follow in the subsequent Puccini, they would have shown their appreciation of the staging and performance even more than in the rapturous manner they did. This imaginative and tasteful production is eminently revivable, a banker. Long may it be seen. I hope WNO do not follow La Scala’s example and replace such a winner with a producer-concept disaster.
Robert J Farr
For a review of the premiere in Cardiff please see McVicar’s Traditional Traviata Continues to Illuminate.