Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

The Maryland Opera Studio Defies Genre with Fascinating Double-Bill

This past weekend, the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) presented a double-billed performance of two of Kurt Weill’s less familiar staged works: Zaubernacht (1922) and Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927).

Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall: Focus on Sir Harrison Birtwistle

The Nash Ensemble’s annual contemporary music showcase focused on the work of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, a composer with whom the group has enjoyed a long and close association. Three of the six works by Birtwistle performed here were commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, as was Elliott Carter’s Mosaic which, alongside Oliver Knussen’s Study for ‘Metamorphosis’ for solo bassoon, completed a programme was intimate and intricate, somehow both elusive in spirit and richly communicative.

McVicar's Faust returns to the ROH

To lose one Marguerite may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. But, with the ROH Gounod’s Faust seemingly heading for ruin, salvation came in the form of an eleventh-hour arrival of a redeeming ‘angel’.

A superb Semele from the English Concert at the Barbican Hall

It’s good to aim high … but be careful what you wish for. Clichéd idioms perhaps, but also wise words which Semele would have been wise to heed.

A performance of Vivaldi's La Senna festeggiante by Arcangelo

In 1726 on 25 August, Jacques-Vincent Languet, Comte de Gergy, the new French ambassador to the Venetian Republic held a celebration for the name day of King Louis XV of France. There was a new piece of music performed in the loggia at the foot of Languet's garden with an audience of diplomats and, watching from gondolas, Venetian nobles.

Matthew Rose and Tom Poster at Wigmore Hall

An interesting and thoughtfully-composed programme this, presented at Wigmore Hall by bass Matthew Rose and pianist Tom Poster, and one in which music for solo piano ensured that the diverse programme cohered.

Ekaterina Semenchuk sings Glinka and Tchaikovsky

To the Wigmore Hall for an evening of magnificently old-school vocal performance from Ekaterina Semenchuk. It was very much her evening, rather than that of her pianist, Semyon Skigin, though he had his moments, especially earlier on.

Hubert Parry's Judith at the Royal Festival Hall

Caravaggio’s depiction (1598-99) of the climactic moment when the young, beautiful, physically weak Judith seizes the head of Holofernes by the enemy general’s hair and, flinching with distaste, cleaves the neck of the occupying Assyrian with his own sword, evokes Holofernes’ terror with visceral precision - eyes and screaming mouth are wide open - and is shockingly theatrical, the starkly lit figures embraced by blackness.

La Pietà in Rome

Say "La Pietà" and you think immediately of Michelangelo’s Rome Pietà. Just now Roman Oscar-winning film composer Nicola Piovani has asked us to contemplate two additional Pietà’s in Rome, a mother whose son is dead by overdose, and a mother whose son starved to death.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Orfeo ed Euridice in Rome

No wrecked motorcycle (director Harry Kupfer’s 1987 Berlin Orfeo), no wrecked Citroen and black hearse (David Alagna’s 2008 Montpellier Orfée [yes! tenorissimo Roberto Alagna was the Orfée]), no famed ballet company (the Joffrey Ballet) starring in L.A. Opera’s 2018 Orpheus and Eurydice).

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel - a world premiere at English National Opera

Jack the Ripper is as luridly fascinating today as he was over a century ago, so it was no doubt sensationalist of the marketing department of English National Opera to put the Victorian serial killer’s name first and the true subject of Iain Bell’s new opera - his victims, the women of Whitechapel - as something of an after-thought. Font size matters, especially if it’s to sell tickets.

Tosca at the Met


The 1917 Met Tosca production hung around for 50 years, bested by the 1925 San Francisco Opera production that lived to the ripe old age of 92.  The current Met production is just 2 years old but has the feel of something that can live forever.

Drama Queens and Divas at the ROH: Handel's Berenice

A war ‘between love and politics’: so librettist Antonio Salvi summarised the conflict at the heart of Handel’s 1737 opera, Berenice. Well, we’ve had a surfeit of warring politics of late, but there’s been little love lost between opposing factions, and the laughs that director Adele Thomas and her team supply in this satirical and spicy production at the ROH’s stunningly re-designed Linbury Theatre have been in severely short supply.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor at the Royal Festival Hall

A strange concert, this, in that, although chorally conceived, it proved strongest in the performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto: not so much a comment on the choral singing as on the conducting of Dan Ludford-Thomas.

Samson et Dalila at the Met


It was the final performance of the premiere season of Darko Tresnjak’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. Four tenors later. 

The Enchantresse and Dido and Aeneas
in Lyon

Dido and Aeneas, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and Tchaikowsky’s L’Enchantresse, the three operas of the Opéra de Lyon’s annual late March festival all tease destiny. But far more striking than the thematic relationship that motivates this 2019 festival is the derivation of these three productions from the world of hyper-refined theater, far flung hyper-refined theater.

The devil shares the good tunes: Chelsea Opera Group's Mefistofele

Every man ‘who burns with a thirst for knowledge and life and with curiosity about the nature of good and evil is Faust ... [everyone] who aspires to the Unknown, to the Ideal, is Faust’.

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

22 Nov 2018

In her beginning is her end: Welsh National Opera's La traviata in Southampton

David McVicar’s La traviata for Welsh National Opera - first seen at Scottish Opera in 2008 and adopted by WNO in 2009 - wears its heavy-black mourning garb stylishly.

Welsh National Opera’s La traviata, at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Kang Wang (Alfredo) and Linda Richardson (Violetta)

Photo credit: Betina Skovbro

 

McVicar seems to have taken a leaf out of T.S. Eliot’s book: ‘say that the end precedes the beginning,/ And the end and the beginning were always there/ Before the beginning and after the end.’ For, during the overture we gaze at designer Tanya McCallin’s shrouded room, its dark, pendulous drapes countered by frail white coverings, shadows the only inhabitants illuminated by lighting designer Jennifer Tipton (lighting realised on tour by Benjamin Naylor). A cloaked figure appears, pauses in melancholy reflection, then is carried by ponderous steps the length of the fore-stage, head bent, to the accompaniment of fragile strings, so light as to suggest a chamber-like intimacy which the visual scene denies.

Before we know it, the room has gone, swept aside by a falling front curtain and the cellos’ melodic gaiety (although on this occasion at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre the section sang less as a gleeful coterie and more as individual revellers), as we swing back into the past and into the insalubrious fin-de-siècle salons of the French capital where the courtesans tease and tussle, frothing their skirts and spreading the legs, amongst the bustled and bow-tied bourgeoisie. Think John Singer Sargent meets Toulouse Lautrec.

The dining table and grand piano totter with sparkling glasses, piled plates and gustatory pleasures. It’s clear as they gather eagerly and sway to a buoyant lilt that during the brindisi the guests are truly enjoying themselves. But, they are literally walking on Violetta’s grave: the floor is a black-marble slab, etched with the dates that mark La traviata’s beginning and end. When Alfredo subsequently takes Violetta in his arms and tells her she must give up a life that will kill her the proleptic irony is disturbing.

Philip Lloyd Evans Marquis d Obginy Rebecca Afonwy Jones Flora and WNO Chorus Photo credit Betina Skovbro.jpg Philip Lloyd Evans (Marquis d’Obginy), Rebecca Afonwy-Jones (Flora) and WNO Chorus. Photo credit: Betina Skovbro.

If the choral crowd are sometimes a little static - though hearty of voice - then individuals are brought to the fore. James Cleverton’s resounding Baron Douphol watches the nascent courtship from the front of the stage isolated from the other carousers’ carnality and excess by his jealousy and anger. Sian Meinir’s Annina hovers watchfully; Flora’s indigo-blue frock gleams as richly as Rebecca Afonwy-Jones mezzo-soprano and as brightly as her smile.

Then, suddenly Violetta and Alfredo find themselves alone; the viewer is disorientated by the change of perspective, sucked into their intimacy. Kang Wang’s evening-dress looks a little on the large size but his voice is stylish and secure, if lacking in a really Italianate warmth and ring at the top. Anush Hovhannisyan is taking the role of Violetta in the two Southampton performances; her soprano perhaps does not have the fullness of tone and nuance of colour to really engage our sympathies but the Armenian soprano has undeniable theatrical presence, and she worked hard to communicate Violetta’s determination and courage, as well as to intimate her frailty - no easy task when vocally the singer in the role must be so robust and sparkling. Hovhannisyan may sometimes have only found a secure line upon the repetition of a vocal phrase, but she has a lovely way of withdrawing the note at the top to convey fragility and femininity - and who would begrudge her repetition of this winning gesture.

Kang Wang Alfredo Photo-credit Betina Skovbro.jpgKang Wang (Alfredo). Photo credit: Betina Skovbro.

Act 2 finds Violetta prone on her bed, the stage divided by a the curving hoops of a half-lowered curtain revealing first the lovers’ bedroom, the shadows looming like ghosts, and then, with a balletic swish, the brightly lit, gracious ante-room in which Violetta awaits her visitors. If Act 2 is fired by a greater intensity and truly compelling dramatic momentum, then this is in no small part due to Roland Wood’s gripping Giorgio Germont. Wood’s baritone imposes itself with wonderfully supercilious smoothness and colour, matching the contemptuous condescension of his gestures - the lifting of frilled layer of Violetta’s dress with his cane, as he sneers about the extravagance of life is the apex of arrogance. Wood’s encounters first with Violetta and then with his son in this Act are both menacing and moving. His iron-rod back, as he refuses to take the open-hearted Violetta in his arms, as a daughter, is chilling.

Alfredo and Roland Wood Giorgio Germont Betina Skovbro.jpgKang Wang (Alfredo) and Roland Wood (Giorgio Germont). Photo credit: Betina Skovbro.

Back in Paris, the excitement at Alfredo’s luck at cards is matched by the exuberance of the gypsy dancers’ displays; and the entertainment cleverly integrates the themes of class and money, as Philip Lloyd-Evans’ oily Marquis d’Obigny shoves some crumpled louis down the cleavage of one of the can-can girls, and a male ‘matador’ scrabbles on the floor for the revellers’ carelessly thrown loose notes. Later there is a terrible desperation and degradation when Alfredo (inelegant in out-sized suit) showers his gambling profits at the horrified over the salon marble, insulting and intimidating Violetta, who shrinks under his scornful, spiteful retort that he has now repaid his debts. Again, some of choral blocking is a little staid: when towards end of chorus, Flora ventures forward to comfort Violetta and is restrained by the Marquis, one wishes that McVicar had integrated more such telling details. Similarly at the close of the scene, the principals too are static, strung out along the front of stage - a little disengaging in their spatial isolation and stillness, with Pere Germont seated exhaustedly stage-right, Alfredo slumped on floor centre-stage, and Violetta standing, just, stage-left.

WNO Dancers and WNO Chorus Photo credit Betina Skovbro.jpg WNO Dancers and WNO Chorus. Photo credit: Betina Skovbro.

Hovhannisyan comes into her own in the last Act much of which she delivers while horizontal on bed or floor, but with dramatic magnetism and vocal focus, her opening agonises accompanied with beautifully shaped violin accompaniment. Violetta’s fervent grasping, with faux optimism, at the arm of Martin Lloyd’s pragmatic Grencil recalls the superficiality of her earlier merriments. Past and present are fusing: when, Germont arrives to embrace her as a daughter, Violetta’s cry, “It is too late!”, is visually reinforced by the terrible funereal darkness and erasure of colour and warmth - even the meagre fire is extinguished, as Violetta’s heart essays its final flickers.

Conductor James Southall had kept a tight rein on the Welsh National Opera Orchestra up until this point, taking care that in the Mayflower ‘barn’ they did not overwhelm the singers. But, now the rat-a-tat of trombones was a spine-curdling knock of Death. One could only hope that T.S. Eliot was right when he professed that ‘to make an end is to make a beginning./ The end is where we start from.’

Claire Seymour

Verdi: La Traviata

Violetta - Anush Hovhannisyan, Alfredo - Kang Wang, Germont - Roland Wood, Flora - Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, Baron Douphol - James Cleverton, Marquis d’Obigny - Philip Lloyd-Evans, Annina - Sian Meinir, Doctor Grenvil - Martin Lloyd, Gaston - Howard Kirk, The Messenger - George Newton-Fitzgerald, Flora’s Servant - Laurence Cole, Dancers/Actors (Colm Seery, Darío Sanz Yagüe, Ashley Bain, Mori Bonet, Lucy Burns, María Comes Sampredo, Lauren Wilson; Director - David McVicar (revival director - Sarah Crisp), Conductor - James Southall, Designer - Tanya McCallin, Lighting Designer - Jennifer Tipton (realised on tour by Benjamin Naylor), Choreographer - Andrew George, Chorus and Orchestra of English National Opera.

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton; Wednesday 21st November 2018.

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):