Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Barber of Seville Is Fun in Tucson

On March 4, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Tucson. Allen Moyer designed the bright and happy scenery for performances at Minnesota Opera,

Moody, Mysterious Morel

Long Beach Opera often takes willing audiences on an unexpected journey and such is undeniably the case with its fascinating traversal of The Invention of Morel.

Acis and Galatea: 2018 London Handel Festival

Katie Hawks makes quite a claim for Handel’s Acis and Galatea when, in her programme article, she describes it as the composer’s ‘most perfect work’. Surely, one might feel, this is a somewhat hyperbolic evaluation of a 90-minute pastoral masque, or serenade, based on an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which has its origins in a private entertainment?

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.



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):