La Traviata

Thu 3rd May 2012


Melissa Tricoire

at 02:19 on 4th May 2012



Ellen Kent’s adaptation of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata conformed to her reputation for high standard productions: the costumes were lavish, the acting professional, the musical accompaniment moving, and the atmosphere aery and magical.

As the costumes were historically grounded in the 1850s, it became obvious that an effort had been made to recapture the essence of the mid-nineteenth century Paris. I did feel transported back to the 1850s but not to Paris; the setting, the furniture and the backdrops in particular, had somehow an Italianate look which might have been a subconscious tribute to the first performance of La Traviata in 1853 in Venice, but did not fit well with the storyline.

Violetta Valery, played by the exquisite Maria Tonina, was more of a fairy-tale princess than a fallen woman: she lives in a glamorous world of fancy balls and billets doux, wears dresses that would make Cinderella pale with envy, and experiences exalted feelings of elation and despair. However, Alfredo Germont, played by Ruslan Zinevych, was no Prince Charming. Although Violetta’s lover tried his best to match her charm, he somehow paled in comparison with her. Alfredo lacked her vivacity and charisma which rendered their duets slightly unsatisfactory. Tonina’s sorrowful duet with Vladimir Dragos, playing Afredo’s father, was more touching than her singing ‘Un Di Felice’ with Zinevych. The lack of chemistry between the lovers was probably the result of production directions as Zinevych’s acting remained professional and superb throughout the performance. In fact, from the onset of this production, it was made clear that Maria Tonina was to be the centre of both the audience’s and her fellow-actors’ attention. She depicted Violetta as an empowered young woman with whom the audience felt compelled to sympathise. Tonina’s vocals are impressive: her interpretation of ‘Addio del passato’ was simply stunning and heart-breaking.

Act II included an unexpected moment of low comedy, featuring a matador in drags and a shower of glitter, which offered a pleasurable contrast to the opera’s overall atmosphere of mystery, pain and gloom. Despite some unfortunate moments of stasis during the dance scenes, the actors effectively took possession of the stage, and the general visual effect was one of aesthetic harmony and pictorial intensity. The last scene in particular, culminated in an apotheosis of painterly sentimentality reminiscent of Henry Fuseli’s Cupid and Psyche.

If you are looking for an innovative adaptation’s of Verdi’s opera, I would recommend seeking out other adaptations, but if you wish to rediscover La Traviata in the most lavish, entertaining and traditional manner Ellen Kent’s production is definitely a must see.


April Elisabeth Pierce

at 09:39 on 4th May 2012



Larger-than-life watercolour sets, glitzy sequined ball gowns, and superfluous use of gold in the first act might prime the sceptical operagoer to expect the worst: kitsch, pre-packed, outlandish romance rife with saccharin vibrato. Hang in there, it gets better. With each scene, the powerful orchestral melodies and increasingly enticing design elements lure the unsuspecting into a sweet and tragic embrace. While inevitably human (all too human), the music of Verdi’s “La Traviata” approaches the elusive hemline of the divine.

It is a woebegone state of affairs that there happen to be so many empty seats at this performance, as it proves a remarkable evening of music, full of surprises that captivate and sparkle. Set in 1850s Paris, this is a story of a woman intent on “enjoying herself, then perishing in a whirlpool of pleasure”, who suffers from severe tuberculosis and an ill-fated fall into real romance. “La Traviata” translates “The Fallen Woman” or, more bluntly, “The Misguided”. Like Romeo and Juliet, the plot touches on themes of familial and social rejection, emotional manipulation, forbidden love, and death. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, however, the antihero is a courtesan, and the story sinks its teeth into realism (Verdi’s own past features prominently as an inspiration for the libretto).

As with any opera, two things are desired: great music and raw emotion. The story, the set, and even the actors are variable, but musical components cannot be compromised, and one wants to walk away having felt something. Fortunately, Ellen Kent Production’s rendition of “La Traviata” delivers. The Ukrainian National Opera of Kharkiv, conducted by Vitalii Kutsenko, is an award-winning powerhouse. Timed to perfection, the musical attributes of Verdi’s popular piece are breathtaking, and carry the entire show. Staccato voices meet staccato measures blow for blow, allegro keeps step with allegro. Choral responses are precisely matched to meet the rise and fall of the orchestra’s phrases, which heightens the theatricality of the spectacle. Added elements such as off-stage singing and laughter enhance the experience significantly. The singing is judiciously varied, with telling silences scattered throughout for emotional resonance. Crucially, feelings are not overacted, and are well-aligned with instrumental emphasis.

One of the most gratifying aspects of this opera is that it improves over the course of the performance. Since opera tends to have elongated plot structures, the production company has gone to great lengths to ensure attention is retained over the entire night. Costumes are statelier and sets become simpler as the opera unfolds, which has the effect of drawing the audience into the emotional drama. The antihero transforms from a Disney Princess to a real person, with darker and more ordinary clothing and more deliberate mannerisms to duly compliment the changing moods.

Although the chorus is somewhat underwhelming, Violetta Valery, played by Maria Tsonina, is a delight to hear. Her subtle intensity even manages to evoke oddly uninhibited sighs of satisfaction from audience members. From the gorgeous trills of the dying to the hesitant harmonics of the newly-seduced, her delivery is masterful and effortless, and at times threatens to overwhelm the rest of the cast (including her love interest), who fail to equal her. However, there is good chemistry between all of the featured artists. Aside from minor set and costume distractions, the basically average chorus, and the odd, nearly-cracked note, Ellen Kent’s “La Traviata” is delicious and unforgettable.


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