La Traviata by WNO: A Review
“It is said that in every hour of the 24 somewhere in the world, the curtain is rising on a Verdi opera.”
La Traviata is undoubtedly the most popular of Verdi’s 27 works, performed worldwide to standing ovations and rapturous applause – and this production directed by David McVicar for the Welsh National Opera was no exception. First performed in Venice in 1853, La Traviata is one of the world’s best-loved classic operas, featuring Verdi’s most evocative music in an emotionally compelling performance of passionate gravity- (it’s the opera that reduces Julia Roberts to tears in Pretty Woman.)
Set in 19th Century Paris, this classic tale of love and tragic loss explores the strict social conventions monitoring the lives of a society entrapped by a notoriously unforgiving class structure. Co-produced with the Scottish Opera, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona and Teatro Real, Madrid; this production glimmered in luxuriant splendour and raised the roof with a lavish ensemble of truly magnificent voices, accompanied by a stunning symphony of orchestral talent. In this dazzling enactment by the WNO, the pure force of emotion propelling these scenes forward is both engaging and startlingly emotional, with stellar performances from Kang Wang as Alfredo, a young aristocrat who falls head over heels in love with Violetta, a young courtesan living in the heart of frivolous Paris with a secret illness plaguing her conscience (brilliantly played by Linda Richardson.) Alfredo is prepared to give up his life of aristocratic luxury to dedicate his life to her, and Violetta is the same; leaving the bright lights of her Parisian livelihood and selling everything she owns to run away with the only man she will ever love.
However, three months later, Violetta receives a visit from Alfredo’s father, the stern but respectable Giorgio Germont, excellently portrayed by Roland Wood, which changes everything. Germont disapproves of their relationship, with what he perceives as Alfredo’s passing fancy of a fallen woman, assuming his son has squandered his inheritance on Violetta (who in reality has been paying for everything!) He makes Violetta promise to leave Alfredo in order to maintain his family reputation and secure an advantage marriage for his daughter. Forced to do as Mr Germont bids, Violetta returns to Paris heartbroken, leaving behind her love and only chance of family behind. In his fury, Alfredo follows her, knowing nothing of his lover’s pact with his father and sees himself betrayed by Violetta’s sudden flee back to her old life of hectic pleasure. A treat for the eyes as well as the ears, the scenery of this impressive production is constructed by Scottish Opera which dazzled in a visual spectacle of glittering extravagance. Among this theatrical world of splendour, the cast impress in costumes richly adorned with vivid silks, plush damask and taffeta, only exceeded by the sheer richness of their voices.
“When opera works; when the singing, playing and drama are at the highest level there is no better art form to allow you to explore those essential human themes of life, love, loss, passion and joy.” – Ruth Williams, Friends of WNO
As the last curtain rises for act three, we witness the dark scene of Violetta on her sickbed, a mere shadow of her former flower of beauty – penniless and friendless but for her maid Annina (Sian Meinir). In this tragic scene, the audience witness the return of Alfredo, begging her for forgiveness and promising a happier life, starting afresh from the crowded extravagance of Paris. Giorgio returns with his son at Violetta’s bedside after revealing to him the full truth of the story; full of remorse, he pledges to accept her as his daughter and welcome her into a family she never had. In the final scene, all is forgiven. But in a bitter twist of tragic irony, Violetta takes her last breath, dying in Alfredo’s arms as the curtain falls.
All photography credit of Betina Skovbro on behalf of the Welsh National Opera.