A Superb Violetta in Stockholm’s La traviata

SwedenSweden Verdi, La traviata: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Stockholm Opera / Domingo Hindoyan (conductor), Royal Stockholm Opera, 23.11.2019. (GF)

Ida Falk Winland (Violetta) © Sören Vilks

Direction – Ellen Lamm
Sets, Costumes and Masks – Magdalena Åberg
Lighting design – Torben Lendorph
Dramaturge – Katarina Aronsson
Choreography – Ambra Succi

Violetta Valéry – Ida Falk Winland
Alfredo Germont – Bror Magnus Tødenes
Giorgio Germont – Karl-Magnus Fredriksson
Flora Bervoix – Susann Végh
Annina – Kristina Hanson
Gastone – Jonas Degerfeldt
Barone Douphol – Markus Schwartz
Marchese d’Obigny – Johan Lilja
Dottore Grenvil – John Erik Eleby
A servant – Gustav Ågren
A messenger – Jan Sörberg
The man in golden dress – Hannes Lemberg

The prelude began so softly that some people in the audience continued their conversation until they were hushed, following which we could enjoy the concentrated tension that conductor Domingo Hindoyan drew from the excellent Royal Orchestra. Indeed, Hindoyan and the orchestra continued to be a dominant factor throughout the performance. Rarely have the musicians in the pit played such an active part in La traviata – a work traditionally regarded as a singers’ opera. But Hindoyan breathes with the singers, pushes them and occasionally hesitates with them.

When the curtain opened, halfway through the prelude, we saw a crescent shaped auditorium – an anatomical theatre with a corpse on a table centre-stage – and realised we were about to witness an autopsy of Violetta Valéry, on show in the advertisements for this performance in a rather horrid photo, cut open and with her heart in her hand. As did a performance in Hamburg some years ago, this production begins with a flashback to the end of the story. As the party music at the opening of Act I begins, the corpse comes to life and jumps up, dressed in a beautiful gold lamé gown and – voilà – there is Violetta, queen of the evening, and the theatre is filled with party guests. Champagne is handed round and a diffident Alfredo is introduced to Violetta and prevailed upon to sing the brindisi.

And here comes the first pleasant surprise. I had heard the young Norwegian tenor Bror Magnus Tødenes before in more modest circumstances and even reviewed his debut CD (click here) some years ago, recorded when he was only 21. It was a very promising debut and the qualities he demonstrated then are very much in line with what he showed here: a very beautiful lyric tenor, effortless delivery and careful with nuances. Also he never forces beyond the natural limitations of the voice, and even though he has ringing top notes he as yet hasn’t quite the heft to carry through the orchestra in the dramatic finale of act II. His acting is not much to write home about, but with more stage experience and careful choice of roles he should be well equipped for a successful career. The duets with Violetta in the first and third acts as well as Alfredo’s aria in the second act – including the cabaletta – certainly point in that direction.

Before I move on to the other singers, here is a brief overview of the production: After Violetta’s famous scene at the end of the first act, the anatomical theatre was raised and hovered above the empty stage during the second act. In the background sat a man with his back to the audience, and those of us who knew the story realised that here was the threat about to spoil the three months of happiness granted to Alfredo and Violetta at her country house outside Paris: Giorgio Germont was waiting for his entrance! The act was played with only a table several chairs on the stage – and this worked excellently.

The intensity of the singing and acting was such that the audience was totally engrossed – and in particular the long and crucial scene between Violetta and Giorgio Germont was so emotionally charged that the whole audience – at least those in my vicinity – literally held their breath. After the break, which came before Flora’s party, the crescent-shaped theatre was back for the rest of the performance, though in slightly modified shape. The Flora scene was as usual dominated by the party choruses, which also included a mute role, a man in women’s clothes who devoted himself to some sexual activities – not very tasteful if you ask me. But by and large this was a rather harmless production, which rightly focused on the relations between Violetta, Alfredo and Germont Senior.

I have already given my view of Bror Magnus Tødenes’s Alfredo, but in this opera. more than in most operas, it is the soprano that is most obviously in the limelight, and in Ida Falk Winland the Royal Opera has a Violetta to compare with Margareta Hallin, who from 1961 and for many years was the Violetta in the house. Ida Falk Winland was a superb Gilda in Rigoletto in Stockholm one year ago (almost to the day) but here, in a much more complex and all-embracing role, she triumphs  in every respect. She has a magnetic radiance as the prima donna assoluta in the first act, and her concluding aria is masterly vocalised. In the second act she is vulnerable and sensitive but also courageous when responding to Germont’s less than gentlemanly assault, and in the Flora scene as well as in the last act she is fragile and helpless, evoking the audience’s compassion.

Both vocally and scenically this was a magnificent achievement. Karl-Magnus Fredriksson was an excellent Germont in the previous production twelve years ago based on a very different concept, in which the father stood out as callous and cynical. In the present production there was a suggestion of understanding and sympathy from the beginning and throughout this key-scene he radiated warmth and humanity, his nuanced singing only reinforcing this feeling. He sang the Provence aria beautifully, and like Alfredo he was also granted the cabaletta. The minor roles were well taken but these characters are so vague that they never make much of an impact. An exception is the doctor, and John Erik Eleby etched a memorable mini-portrait of this warm-hearted man. This La Traviata can safely be recommended as a deeply satisfying production.

Göran Forsling

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