Sunday, 18 May 2014

La traviata, Victorian Opera, May 17, 2014 ***1/2

Music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
By Victorian Opera in association with Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini
Her Majesty’s Theatre, May 17 to 29, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Tues, May 20 and later in print. NB: VO uses lower case for 'traviata'. KH
 Jessica Pratt as Violetta Valèry, Alessandro Scotto di Luzio as Alfredo Germont

 The lavish world of decadent, 19th century salons in Paris is vividly depicted in this sumptuous, Victorian Opera production of Giuseppe Verdi’s poignant tragedy, La traviata. 

Led by silvery-voiced Jessica Pratt as the lusty but ailing courtesan, Violetta, an international cast sings the opera beautifully, but it is the visual impact of the striking, mirrored design (originally by Josef Svoboda) that dubs this production ‘The traviata of the mirrors’.

La traviata (‘the fallen woman’) is set in the Parisian ‘demi-monde’, a term that refers to the hedonism of a lavishly excessive lifestyle of pleasure-seeking, wine, gambling and lust lived by those who defied the propriety of the ruling class.

Based on Alexander Dumas’ book, The Lady of the Camelias, La traviata is one of the most-performed operas and is filled with Verdi’s exquisite arias – recognisable even to opera novices – inspiring harmonies, dramatic duets and stirring choruses.

In the role of the tragic, young prostitute who chooses to leave her opulent life for love, Pratt’s soprano is superbly controlled with a lovely tone, particularly when singing ‘piano’ (quietly).

She skillfully meets the vocal challenges of Verdi’s arias: the demanding coloratura (very high notes) in Act One, the lyric soprano duet in Act Two, and the dramatic soprano style as Violetta faces death in Act Three.

As her doting lover, Alfredo, Alessandro Scotto di Luzio sings expressively and emotionally, capturing both the desperation and joy of this young man’s obsession with Violetta.

José Carbó brings rich vocal warmth to Alfredo’s father, Giorgio, and mezzo-soprano, Dimity Shepherd, is sassy and provocative as Violetta’s friend and fellow courtesan, Flora.

In this production directed by Henning Brockhaus, Verdi’s score is dexterously played by Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra under Richard Mills’ able conducting, and features some rousing choruses by the Victorian Opera Chorus.

The stage picture is luscious with huge painted canvases of sensual nudes, opulent salons and decadent scenes reflected in the tilted mirror that overshadows the entire stage.

Despite its beauty and splendour, the mirrored imagery often overwhelms and dwarfs the performers who disappear in the dizzying double vision of the mirrored world overlaying the real.

Although the music and singing are impressively performed, Brockhaus’s production feels static, with singers standing and delivering without any nuanced performance or fully rounded characters.

In spite of her lovely arias, Pratt’s acting is limited, leaving her looking uncomfortable on stage, and unfortunately she looks too healthy for a consumptive, dying woman.

Another drawback is that both Pratt and di Luzio too often melodramatically hurl themselves to the floor like rag dolls where they flail about in paroxysms of despair or illness.

This La traviata is a splendid visual display with some fine singing and playing, but it relies too heavily on its design when it could concentrate more on depth of character.

Kate Herbert
company + Jessica Pratt, Alessandro Scotto di Luzio centre

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