United Kingdom Verdi, La Traviata: Glyndebourne Touring Opera / Jeremy Bines (conductor), Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, 8.11.2014. (CS)
Violetta, Irina Dubrovskaya
Flora Bervoix, Lauren Easton
Marchese D’Obigny, Benjamin Cahn
Baron Douphol, Eddie Wade
Doctor Grenvil, Timothy Dickinson
Gastone, Viscount de Letorières, Joshua Owen Mills
Alfredo Germont, Zach Borichevsky
Annina, Magdalena Molendowska
Giusepppe, Niel Joubert
Giorgio Germont, Evez Abdulla
Messenger, John Mackenzie-Lavansch
Flora’s Servant, Lukasz Karauda
Director, Tom Cairns
Set and Costume Designer, Hildegard Bechtler
Choreographer, Aletta Collins
Revival Choreographer, Daisy May Kemp
Lighting Designer, Peter Mumford
If we were in any doubt about ‘La Traviata’s’ inevitable tragic destiny, then such uncertainties would have been swept aside by the image prefacing each scene of Tom Cairns’ production of Verdi’s La Traviata (seen on 8th November); Violetta lies prone on a bed to the front right of the stage, a representation of suffering and debility which foreshadows her ultimate, drawn-out demise. The falsity of the courtesan’s glitter is poignantly embodied by the grand chandelier which adorns the opening scene: by the final act, the grandeur of illumination has diminished, and the miniature light-fitting is a stirring emblem of the courtesan’s demise. Similarly, Violetta’s silver party dress is cloaked in a scarlet opera cloak which then lies abandoned on her bed in the final act, the courtesan’s protective mask eventually cast aside, the silvery gloss of satin fading to insipid, life-drained white.
Cairns’ sort-of-modern-dress La Traviata (there are some period details and inferences) is economically staged and tells the tale clearly and truly, touching the heart strings. Two curving screens, emphasising the separation of public and private worlds, divide the stage. For the Act 1 party the two halves are lit in glowing, complementary red and blue; Act 2 Scene 1 presents the lovers retreat, a pale backdrop suggesting a rural garden, while the oval gaming tables of the second scene of the act take us back once again into the brittle, unforgiving public gaze. In Act 3, the spotlight is firmly on the Violetta, as she rejects the role which has delusively sustained her and accepts her essential, human and tragic destiny.
Much is asked of Irina Dubrovskaya as Violetta, and after a slightly brittle opening Act, she found the emotional resonance to convey the courtesan’s humanity and suffering with expressive force. Dubrovskaya summoned a vocal and theatrical eloquence which was truly affecting; in Act 2 Scene 1, the contrast between her physical frailty and inner core of strength was painfully evident, during both her encounter with the naïve Alfredo and her later, submissive confrontation with Germont. Dubrovskaya’s voice became progressively more sumptuous and she proved more than able to meet the challenges of the role; ‘Dite alla giovine’ conveyed considerable pathos.
As her beloved Alfredo, Zach Borichevsky was handsome of bearing and exhibited a pleasing tone but I found both his voice and theatrical demeanour somewhat lacking in depth and character; rather naïve and solipsistic, he seemed to deserve his father’s virulent public censures in Act 2, following his attempt to denounce and humiliate Violetta.
Baritone Evez Abdulla made Germont’s moral rectitude and love for son clearly apparent; this was surely a man of moral integrity rather than a patriarchal bully. Abdulla’s resonant, attractive tone and interesting interpretive slant, made this Germont engaging and sympathetic; his recognition of Violetta’s essential goodness and his son’s own superficiality was greatly affecting.
In the minor roles Eddie Wade, as the brutish Baron Douphol, and Magdalena Molendowska, as a supportive and sympathetic Annina, were noteworthy. Conductor Jeremy Bines drew much rich Verdian tinta from his players, although occasionally the well-defined, insistent accompaniment overpowered the singers’ more intimate moments. But, the bustling choral scenes generated vigour and élan.
The strength of the production was ultimately embodied by Violetta’s final collapse; and, as the curtain descended on La Traviata’s prone body, it was clear that Cairns had powerfully conveyed the psychological schism within the heroine who, despite her faults, has the power to move us all.