United Kingdom Nevill Holt Opera 2021  – Verdi, La traviata: Soloists, chorus and Manchester Camerata / Nicholas Chalmers (conductor). Nevill Holt, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, 5.8.2021. (CP)
Director – Jamie Manton
Designer – Camilla Clarke
Movement director – Clara Bajado
Sound designer – Mark Rogers
Violetta Valéry – Susana Gaspar
Flora Bervoix – Annabel Kennedy
Marchese d’Obigny – Simon Grange
Baron Douphol – Robert Garland
Doctor Grenvil – Hugo Herman-Wilson
Gastone – Robin Bailey
Alfredo Germont – Luis Gomes
Annina – Philippa Boyle
Guiseppe – Zahid Siddiqui
Giorgio Germont – Michael de Souza
Forced to vacate their prized opera house by the pandemic, Nevill Holt gambled on staging its first outdoor performances. What a gamble! It is so rewarding when that it paid off as it did for their season opener – a remarkable performance of La traviata. Using an 18-metre dome stage, a promoter’s favourite for music festivals across the country with adjacent grandstands, four hundred and fifty patrons enjoyed a rewarding first night performance with stunning Leicestershire sunshine and a view overlooking some of the county’s unspoilt precious agricultural landscape. Many have raved about Longborough’s view across the Cotswolds; this Leicestershire view matches that! The patrons on the first night will subscribe to that, many taking the opportunity at the interval to gaze at such a restful vista. Hopefully, the six hundred on afternoons to come will enjoy it too.
Manchester Camerata, housed within that dome stage, make their Nevill Holt debut, a very encouraging one, too. Their playing was crisp, responding to Nicholas Chalmers’s demands for a strong tempo. Well led by Caroline Pether and supported by brilliant solo clarinettist, Fiona Cross, they will be welcomed back in future years. Confident brass playing and consistently strong wind playing deserve a special mention. First violins overcame the extreme heat from the blazing sun with a clever repositioning during the interval.
In the fresh air, a purpose-built grassy mound in front of the grandstand supports a large wooden fountain, the focus of attention throughout. Making an impact from the beginning of Act I, Susana Gaspar (Violetta) hosts the party of the bourgeoisie in Paris, the bursts from the fountain adding to the festivities. Gaspar, a previous member of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House, delights in one of her most prominent roles. She previously represented Portugal in the 2013 Cardiff Singer of the World Competition and her soprano voice has strengthened since her 2016 début as Gilda with Nevill Holt in Verdi’s Rigoletto. She dominates the grassy mound wherever she is and in whatever mood or state of health. Hers was an intimate performance at times, an extravagant one at others, not least when in partying mood. Violetta’s fluctuating relationship with Alfredo Germont (Luis Gomes) is most appealing in the prevailing mood swings. Both Caspar and Gomes excel in their efforts to portray the changing behaviours Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto requires for their characters, including his irritation and her succumbing to family pressures and illness. High emotions run through much of Act II as her love for Alfredo becomes a family scandal. This introduces Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont (baritone Michel de Souza) in his role as the domineering, interfering, potential father-in law. He portrays this to extremes and sings with the controlling authority expected. His depth of voice and solid timbre is a credit to him. Three soloists at the top of their game on this first night, emerging talents all.
Soon after the interval the ‘card game’ gets underway with gypsies and young matadors from Madrid involved in Alfredo’s gamble with the Baron Douphol (Robert Garland) for Violetta’s hand. The event ends with the Baron dramatically striking Alfredo; on this occasion the design and delivery of this ‘card game’ fits comfortably into the surroundings, with the matadors using the space effectively yet managing to deliver a solid chorus support to the drama on and around the fountain. This chorus would probably benefit from a couple more rehearsals.
A young child appears on occasions, not sure to whom she belongs. Several of this season’s garden operas have taken the ‘cycle of life’ as something of an underlying theme, notably, Longborough’s The Cunning Little Vixen (review click here). Perhaps the pandemic has given us all cause to reflect on how we live our lives and to make sure mistakes we are presently making are not repeated by future generations!
Violetta’s demise on the fountain, now transformed into the death bed, is as dramatic as needed, de Souza portraying his remorse and Gomes delivering a beautiful final duet with Gaspar, sublime singing. Conductor Nicholas Chalmers, maintained the strong tempo, bringing a delightful, often nuanced, performance to a close with the sun continuing to shine on those fortunate to enjoy the magnificent surroundings. A wonderful ensemble of singers and musicians results in a well-deserved hit for Nevill Holt: it pays to be brave, sometimes.
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