Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

Iestyn Davies and Fretwork bring about a meeting of the baroque and the modern

‘Music for a while/Shall all your cares beguile’. Standing in shadow, encircled by the five players of the viol consort Fretwork, as the summer storm raged outside Milton Court Concert Hall countertenor Iestyn Davies offered mesmeric reassurance to the capacity audience during this intriguing meeting of the baroque and the modern.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Corinne Winters (Violetta) [Photo by Philip Newton]
26 Jan 2017

Traviata in Seattle

One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement” for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the emotions and reason of the audience.

Traviata in Seattle

A review by Roger Downey

Above: Corinne Winters (Violetta)

Photos by Philip Newton

 

The exact proportions of the blend in any given staging would of course vary according to the character of the work in question. Le comte Ory, whatever else it is, is frivolous entertainment, and received a hyper-frivolous staging, with doll-like puppets gamboling in a toy-store window setting. Nabucco, whatever else it is, is achingly serious drama, and got a suitably solemn approach.

La traviata is quite a different matter. There are literally dozens of productions available for remounting, most of them fairly bland, set up to frame conventional notions about Verdi’s pathbreaking music drama, with thought, if employed at all, goes into decorative details

For his Traviata, Lang chose to revive Peter Konwitschny’s 2011 Graz staging, which was quickly taken up at the English National Opera and just as quickly revived there.

170110_Traviata_pn_-1491.pngCorinne Winters (Violetta) and Joshua Dennis (Alfredo)

Seeing the Seattle Opera staging beside the Graz original on video, makes it perfectly clear that Konwitschny, as proudly high-handed in his approach the the operatic classics as any director living, requires the most meticulous adherence to his own instructions. I don’t think I saw a moment or movement on the McCaw Hall stage which varied by a hair from what’s to be seen in the live video.

It was nevertheless revelatory seeing this stereotyped staging in full. Choices which once were puzzling to me now seem explicable, moments I thought I grasped now seemed odder when viewed in context.

The most successful directorial intervention is playing all four scenes without a break. Traviata is a remarkably short opera considering the dramatic range covered, and if a soprano is willing to submit herself to such unrelenting exertions, the audience’s hour and fifty minutes in their seats are amply recompensed in the continuing tension of the drama.

But two other major interventions damage the overall impression badly, which suffers badly from the unshifting point of view of a theater seat. Konwitschny sees Alfredo Germont as a . . . a what? A dweeb? A geek? Not, externally at least, a passionately romantic nature: This Alfredo wears cardigan sweaters, horn-rimmed spectacles, in never seen without a book even while being introduced to a famous courtesan whom he has long worshiped from afar. Franco Corelli would have been hard-put to overcome this handicap; and Joshua Dennis is too honorable to work against it.

17_LaTraviata_JL_059.pngMaya Lahyani (Flora) and Corinne Winters (Violetta) [Photo by Jacob Lucas]

The second interventions begins promisingly but veers fatally off-course. Speaking about Traviata as a work, Aidan Lang rightly identifies the first scene of act two as the dramatic and emotional heart of the opera and Germont père as the most crucial character. Where, on the spectrum from paternal love to cold calculation, sincere appeal to relentless manipulation, does his heart lie?

Konwitschny’s approach renders him an utter enigma. Weston Hunt uses a warm, enveloping voice and his imposing physical bulk to present a classic troubled father. Even the director’s decision to bring Alfredo’s (much) younger sister on stage to reinforce the father’s appeal to the honor of his family (and loss to her marital prospects) seems defensible.

Then, in one gesture, the who picture collapses. Pestered by the child while making a point, Germont strikes her savagely across the face, knocking her to the floor. Then, while Violetta (and the audience) stare at him in horror, suavely continues his appeal.

The violence recurs, with as little motivation and effect as before. Violetta cuddles the child protectively but hands her passively back to Germont in agreeing to his terms for abandoning Alfredo. The contradiction created by Germont’s action engulfs her as well. To the end of the scene nothing that happens makes sense.

170110_Traviata_pn_-783.pngEliana Harrick (Germont's Daugher) and Corinne Winters (Violetta)

From this point onward oddity and bizarrerie intrude more and more deeply. The movement of the chorus in the first scene at Violetta’s party was stylized to the point of parody; in the second scene of act twotheir behavior goes beyond the parodic as they first constantly parade across the stage during Alfredo’s encounter with Violetta before collapsing to the floor in a heap and crawling off the stage on their bellies during the celestial prelude to act three.

After this, one barely asks why Doctor Duphol is wearing a party hat covered with green glitter when he comes to attend Violetta. Cause and effect are no longer a consideration. For me, the little has was the last straw. I suddenly saw the show as a conventional, even routine walk through of a masterpiece, the spare stand-and-deliver blocking dotted with conspicuous peculiarities to distract from the lack of contact between the players and lack of development within them.

The fearless soprano Marliss Petersen, in almost constant close-up, punches right though this inertia in the Graz video. On the McCaw stage, bare and draped in interminable red, Corinne Winters can’t escape the chill of the void, the clichés of her costuming (black Lulu wig in scene one, Doris Day ditto in scene 2 . . .), the hollowness of the dramaturgy. Her effort is nonetheless heroic. I hope that she is better supported by the new production of Jenůfa here which opens in late February. With little emotion and next to no serious thought, this Traviata doesn’t meet the ambitions declared for the company by its director and board.

Roger Downey

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):