From curtain up to Act Three’s closing death scene Opera Australia’s production of La Traviata had what it took to satisfy aficionados of this most loved of Verdi’s operas and to win over new ones – or so it seemed from where we were sitting.
Although I am not generally in favour of reviewers using their personal circumstances to back their opinion, in this case I hope I can be forgiven, as my guest and I approached the work from widely different perspectives, yet were both delighted with our night at the Opera.
For Anna, new to Traviata, the charm started with the overture and its plaintive strings, hinting at tragedy to come (but also the many catchy tunes to be found in the opera). Orchestra Victoria played with its normal confidence and sensitivity, conductor Carlo Montanaro taking every opportunity through the evening to draw attention to the fine playing of the ensemble.
Most of those rousing songs occur in the two party scenes, the first of them in Act One introducing most of the soloists and the chorus in the party given by Violetta, to celebrate her return to health after treatment for tuberculosis. The atmosphere of good cheer and celebration is supported in this production directed by Elijah Moshinsky, with extravagant costumes and a set based on Paris salons of the 19th century.
Havng first been introduced to this opera at the age of five (at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda) and seen it many times since (let alone being regaled with my father’s first-hand stories of young waiters thronging matinees at the Opera house in Vienna to see this most popular of operas) the authenticity of the production appeared above reproach.
Casting was apparently controversial to some people with the choice of American soprano Corinne Winters as Violetta. However, with so many of our own Australian talent in demand in opera houses in Europe and America, I think it is healthy to hear a different approach. Miss Winters had the look, and I believe, the voice to carry this complex and tragic heroine through a demanding three Acts. While some little disjunction with the tempo early in the performance could be put down to first night nerves, the soprano’s best moments were in the final scene, her love for Alfredo lending strength to her voice, yet conveying how difficult it was to sing as her physical strength failed her.
Incidentally, I thought it a lapse of good taste that the lavish program featured pictures not of Miss Winters but of Nicole Car, a previous occupant of the role of Violetta, with the tenor Ji-Min Park her partner. Tenor Yosep Kang likewise did not deserve to be so passed over, with his strong tenor voice a consistent delight and a good foil for Miss WInters. Jose Carbo, apparently Opera Australia’s first choice to occupy the role of Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, is in the program and is a solid performer in the role. HIs is no easy task: to persuade Violetta to give up Alfredo, while winning some audience sympathy for his position. This he managed with his usual practice of convincingly inhabiting the character and for the rest, letting his authoritative voice charm the listener.
It goes without saying that the principals had great support, not just from the minor characters and chorus, but the smooth machine backstage. So it’s a welcome initiative that Opera Australia is opening up the process of the scene change between scenes I and 2 of Act ll for audience inspection on video and with its first Open Curtain night.
There could hardly be a better advertisement for the current Melbourne season – or indeed, opera in general – than this wonderful production of a great favourite in the repertoire.