Joyce El-Khoury’s Violetta Heads Strong Cast for a Tremendous Glyndebourne La traviata

04/08/2017

United KingdomUnited Kingdom 2017 Glyndebourne Festival [3] – Verdi La traviata: Soloists; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra / Stefan Soltész. Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Lewes, Sussex, 1.8.2017. (CC)

Trav

Atalla Ayan (Alfredo) & Joyce El-Khoury (Violetta) in La traviata (c) Robbie Jack

Cast:

Violetta – Joyce El-Khoury
Alfredo Germont – Atalla Ayan
Giorgio Germont – Dimitri Platinas
Flora Bervoix – Rihab Chaieb
Marchese d’Obigny – Daniel Shelvey
Baron Dauphol – William Dazeley
Doctor Grenvil – Henry Waddington
Giuseppe – Anthony Osborne
Annina – Eliza Safjan
Gastone – Gabriele Mangione
Messenger – Edmund Danon
Servant – Dominic Sedgwick

Production:

Director – Tom Cairns
Set & Costume Designer – Hildegard Bechtler
Choreographer – Aletta Collins
Revival Choreographer – Emily Piercy
Lighting Designer – Peter Mumford
Revival Lighting Designer – Keith Benson
Video & Projection Designer – Nina Dunn

No matter how often one encounters La traviata, it still casts a spell. This, on occasion, despite the production. Here, Tom Cairns sets the opera pretty much in the present day. Using sparse sets, one’s attention is placed firmly on the singing; the extension of this is that the singers carry even more responsibility. A generally strong cast on this occasion fared well, although real insights from the stage setting remained few and far between.

This is a revival of the Tom Cairns’ 2014 production, and this is the second run of the summer of 2017. The set itself features a couple of walls, one curved, one apparently quilted. The projection designer credit is largely for Act II, where a rural garden is projected at the back of the stage. Lighting is often atmospheric, especially in its invocation of a fuzzy, liminal space for the second act (perhaps as everything is up in the air for Violetta), yet, again, there is little to stimulate or excite. That really fell to the singers and, in particular, the orchestra. The use of space so that one can see and track Germont père’s responses to the exchanges between Violetta and Alfredo in the latter stages of Act II Scene 1 is memorable, however; and the party scenes of Act II Scene 2 are far more perspective-friendly than Richard Eyre’s rather dizzying attempt for the Royal Opera. One might wonder also about the very end of the opera: Violetta dies alone, not surrounded by the cast and not in Alfredo’s arms, her demise present from the start (she is shown at the onset of each act essentially insensate on a bed/couch). Perhaps, no matter how surrounded we are by others in life, we all face death, ultimately, alone.

The past concert/opera season had more than its fair share of replacement, and so it continues. The original conductor for this Traviata, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, withdrew due to illness and was replaced by Hungarian conductor Stefan Stolész.

As mentioned we see Violetta lying on a bed; her mortality is viscerally there from the beginning, as it is in Verdi’s Act I Prelude. This particular Prelude was the finest live performance I have heard, way stronger than any of the multiple performances at Covent Garden I have covered, the strings exhibiting infinite control and shading, the whole texture exquisitely balanced. Soltész happily embraced the extremes the opera extends, from the fizzing “Sempre libera” to the tragedy of the final scene; it was the work of a conductor with a grasp of the overall trajectory of the work.

This was a strong cast. Lebanese-Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury sang Violetta in January this year at Covent Garden (review). El-Khoury delivers the virtuosity-filled earlier part of the first act with a light voice, possibly too light; it does put the deepening at “Ah fors’è lui” into context. Perhaps that was what she was trying to achieve at Covent Garden earlier in the year, where it sounded far more like her voice was just settling in. As the opera progressed it was clear that her voice could encompass the huge variety of expression Verdi’s cruelly demanding role requires.

Her Alfredo is Atalla Ayan, who was more inside the role than at Covent Garden in June this year. His voice had the flexibility to give the turns involved in “Libiamo” superbly, and he showed real vocal strength at “Un dì felice.” Together with El-Khoury, “Parigi, o cara” from Act III worked beautifully, enhancing the fragility of the happiness the lovers had been enjoying.

Greek baritone Dimitri Platinas enjoyed a fine evening vocally as Giorgio. His acting could have been a step more involved, but he was in beautiful, burnished voice. William Dazeley, – last seen by myself as a soldier in Hartmann’s Simplicius Simplissimus at Sadler’s Wells in November last year (review) – was a fine Baron Dauphol while Daniel Shelvey was a strong Marchese d’Obigny. Henry Waddington made a convincing Doctor Grenvil in his short but vital part in the final act.

Annina, who seems to crop up most places in this production, was well taken by Eliza Safjan; Rihab Chaieb was an equally fine Flora Bervoix.

The Glyndebourne Chorus was impeccably drilled by their chorus master, Jeremy Bines, offering real joy throughout. An impressive evening. There is, surely, no thing as a completely satisfying Traviata; Verdi’s demands are too high. Yet the luxury of having the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the pit is beyond measure, accompanying and commentating with superb accuracy, yet sounding as if they spend their whole lives down there. Tremendous.

Colin Clarke

For more about the Glyndebourne Festival click here.

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