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…to die so young

February 27, 2013

One of my passions, as many a reader will know is Opera and I am looking forward to Berlin a full Ring Cycle this April.  I try and manage my time so that I see most productions at the ROH and ENO as well the a good percentage of the WNO.  I'm not a fan of Mozart so while I will collect something I have not seen before I tend not to seek them out.  Opera before the 19th Century is another collectable; see once tick the box.  

From the 19th Century, which means Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Verdi life gets interesting and variation in production becomes a part of the interest.  We have a fair degree of innovation at the two London houses at the moment with new Directors.  The ROH showed off its new production of Eugene Onegin and I was going to post on that, but then I read the views of my good friend Yiannis Gabriel described and realised I was not in the same league as a critic!  Last night it was the ENO's turn and we had Verdi's La Traviata, one of his most restrained pieces, no marches of exotic animals around the pyramids here but a delicately drawn story of love, isolation and oppression.  

Now the tradition is that the ENO do experimental stuff, generally with younger singers.  So the quality of voice is often less than the ROH and you don't get the really big names.  On the other hand over the years they have produced some of the most innovative productions.  One thinks of Millers's production of Rigolleto set in a mafia dominated New York and Harrison Birtwistle's Mask of Orpheus as examples.  The ENO also pioneered performing musicals with operatic casts which has been much copied ever since.  When it works it can be brilliant, but it can also fail albeit gloriously at times.

Traviata is one of the triumphs, if you are in London get a ticket and enjoy.  The production manages with a minimalist set of a chair and curtains to create a mesmeric tradition between party and pathos.  The overture was managed with exquisite perfection; the sounds of a distant party underpinned by dark tones.   Producing it without the normal two intervals also added to the intensity of the experience.  The addition of Germont's sister as an silent actress was a brilliant innovation.  In normal productions Violetta gives into Alfredo's father too quickly, but in this production she does so in solidarity with the sister, seeking to save her from the consequences of the cattle market that is marriage and whoredom in that period.  This is a profoundly feminist production in which Violetta is isolated by the male protagonists, abandoned, abused and finally when her death makes any consequences disappear they salve their conscience but no more.

This is brilliantly done in the final scene where Alfredo and his father sing from the front of the stalls, the orchestral pit separating them from Violetta makes her final recitative in a circle of light surrounded by darkness, as her final duet with Alfredo fades she drifts to the back of the light and to darkness and freedom.  I was in tears through that final scene.  Corrine Winters on her debut here not only had the voice for Violetta but also the body and acting ability.  Similarly Ben Johnson who is growing as a tenor with each performance.  Anthony Michaels-Moor was dominant in voice and presence as Afredo's father.  Three well matched principals, who were complete in their role – stage presence, acting and voice.  

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