United Kingdom Verdi, La traviata: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden / Antonello Manacorda (conductor). Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 14.1.2019. (CC)
Director – Richard Eyre
Revival director – Andrew Sinclair
Designer – Bob Crowley
Lighting designer – Jean Kalman
Director of Movement – Jane Gibson
Violetta Valéry – Ermonela Jaho
Alfredo Germont – Charles Castronovo
Giorgio Germont – Igor Golovatenko
Flora Bervoix – Aigul Akhmetshina
Marquis d’Obigny – Jeremy White
Baron Douphol – German E. Alcántara
Doctor Grenvil – Simon Shibambu
Gastone – Thomas Atkins
Giuseppe – Neil Gillespie
Annina – Catherine Carey
Messenger – Sominic Barrand
Servant – Jonathan Coad
This constitutes the sixteenth revival of Richard Eyre’s well-known staging of La traviata, first seen on Covent Garden’s main stage in 1994. It has thus been a mainstay of the Royal Opera for some time now, yet consistently brings in full houses still. In some ways like a pair of well-worn slippers, it nevertheless still illuminates. Seen close up from the stalls, the way Eyre, Crowley and Kalman combine to create specific atmospheres for each act is even more visceral, from the glittering and yet claustrophobic party scene through to the empty of life country house (its portraits stacked in readiness for the protagonists’ demise) to the trippy gambling scene in Il trovatore mode with its bullfighters (here significantly less camp than previously) and through finally to the mournful gloominess of the final act, with the projected shadow-play of outside revellers in stark contrast to the death being enacted within.
Italian conductor Antonello Manacorda, since 2010 Artistic Director of the Kammerakademie Potsdam and since 2011 Principal Conductor of Het Golders Orkest, Netherlands, steers a fine reading. A name we will no doubt encounter more regularly, the orchestra responded superbly to his variegated way with the score; more nuanced than many (only outstripped in this regard by Maurizio Benini’s 2012 run). The orchestra played superbly, not least in rapid violin work, here ultra-clean; there was a palpable feeling of trust as well as respect between players and conductor. The Royal Opera Chorus, also in top form, gave their all, ever beautifully balanced.
The Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho essayed Violetta back in January 2012, to mixed results. The difference in 2019 is huge; yes, there was a feeling of warming into the part in the earlier stages of the first act but by the time her big coloratura scene came the fireworks were all there, as well as a real resonance with the part. Tenderness was there, too, in ‘Ah forsè lui’. The drama of the second act was all hers (more on that remark soon) and the tragedy of the final act was visceral: this was an entirely believable ebbing away of a life, visible in her demeanour and audible in the fragmented phrases and their fragile delivery. If her voice is not quite huge enough for some of the outbursts of heart-felt love for Alfredo, it hardly matters given the dramatic impetus she now brings to the part; plus, she has all the vocal agility for us to revel in Verdi’s abundant writing. One must not forget her superb Butterfly in March 2017, either.
Her Alfredo here was American tenor Charles Castronovo, a superb Edgardo in Covent Garden’s 2017 Lucia di Lammermoor (review click here). Virile and full-voiced, nay huge-voiced in his ‘Libiamo, ne’ lieti calici’ Castronovo seemed to live all his emotions to the full. A touch of subtlety in the opening of the second act would not have gone amiss, it is true, but his assumption was ever-believable. Unfortunately, the same cannot in truth be said of Igor Golovatenko’s somewhat wooden Giorgio Germont; wooden both in acting and in vocal phrasing (‘Pura siccome un angelo,’ usually a moment of pure magic, really meant nothing here). One could of course argue that Golovatenko was portraying Giorgio as a man who doesn’t dare let his emotions out so has to keep them inside, incapacitating him in terms of emotional expression, but the result, whatever the intent, was sadly staid.
The main protagonists were supported by a fine cast (the first of two casts, the second including Angel Blue in her ROH debut as Violetta and a certain Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont).
Aigul Akhmetshina’s Flora was a model of its kind; along with the excellent Germán E. Alcantara as Baron Douphol, she is a member of the Jette Parker scheme. Catherine Carby was an excellent Annina, Thomas Atkins a strong Gastone. Simon Shibambu was a fine Doctor.
The familiar names of Jeremy White (Marquis d’Obigny) and Neil Gillespie (Giuseppe) brought a certain stability to the evening. But the actual triumph belongs to the Violetta, the Alfredo and, in particular, the conductor Antonello Manacorda, whose ability to think almost symphonically, to see the harmonic goals so cogently and to elucidate so much detail, enabled this Traviata to succeed like few others.
For more about what is on at the Royal Opera House click here.