Traviata reviews

Derrick Graham of the Surrey Mirror wrote:

SURREY Opera’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had a few surprises, not the least that it was sung in Italian - a fact not evident from the advance publicity.

So it was a case of sitting back and enjoying the music and trying to catch up with the details of the plot during the interval.

While one can expect the pricipals to know their parts in Italian - they were all drawn from companies at Glyndbourne, Covent Garden and English National Opera, it must have been much harder for the members of Surrey Opera to learn the parts but it all sounded superb.

Violetta is a courtesan in Paris who has consumption (TB) which will lead to her death at the end of the opera. The story starts with her throwing a costume party at which she meets Alfredo, a young man who falls in love with her.

Later, they are living together in a house in the country and Alfredo’s father Giorgio calls upon her to give up his son because the shame of his living with a prostitute is ruining his sister’s chances of getting married.

Candida Langston as Violetta gave a wonderful performance; every gesture, expression and move conveying the story, even if one could not understand the words.

Her voice had a fantastic quality and power which, in the first act, Philip Pooley as Alfredo had a struggle to match. By act two he seemed to get into his stride and from there on gave a fine performance.

Craig Smith as Giorgio gave a magnificent performance as the outraged father trying all in his power of personality to break up the affair between his son and Violetta.

She ultimately agrees and returns to Paris for a gambling party with her `companion’ Baron Duphol (Robert Gildon).

Alfredo outrages the other guests by paying Violetta for her past services out of his winnings at cards and then the Baron protests, challenging him to a duel.

Violetta, now very weak, returns to her house and is tended by her friend Annina, a fine performance by Alison Dabell, and Doctor Grenvil (Lawrence Reed). Alfredo comes to her as she is dying and they are reunited before her final collapse.

One set of platforms and stairs served for all the scenes, decorated with lights and props to show a change of setting.

Costumes were a wonderful mix of period and modern, Violetta’s opening attire being a white mini-skirt matched with a blouse and with broadly striped stockings.

By act two, costumes were even more modern, Alfredo now in sports clothes and carrying a golf bag.

It was a wonderful production with direction by Matthew Hiscock and Jonathan Butcher conducting a superb orchestra, so controlled that it formed the perfect accompaniment to the singers.

In the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Elena Hill wrote:

GONE were the heavy velvet curtains, crinolines and top hats often associated with Verdi’s most lyrical and tender opera. Instead the audience were presented with a contemporary club scene, complete with chic waiters, cross-dressers and air-kisses in a simple, effective set.

At first this was slightly shocking, but as Violetta, in a tight white basque, began to sing, any preconceptions of the opera as a strictly period piece melted away. Candida Langston not only looked and moved like a dancer, but never seemed to struggle with this demanding role. More tha anything, though, she made Violetta real. Particularly touching were her scenes with Craig Smith’s stunningly sung Germont Père and her death scene with Philip Pooley’s charmingly boyish Alfredo.

All three sang with control and feeling throughout, but Smith’s Germont deserves to be singled out as a spectacular voice, with a still, brooding presence that can convey feeling with the raise of a single eyebrow.

Of the smaller parts, Mark Millidge stood out as a sinister, manipulative Gaston, always exploiting the discomfort of the other characters. Also impressive was Alison Dabell as Annina - understated but consistently strong and supportive of Violetta and with a clear, pleasant voice. Weaker were Robert Gildon as the Baron and Thomas Langley as the Marquis as neither of them really came across vocally.

The direction was slick and surprisingly gimmick-free for such a modern production and there were many heart-rending moments. Towards the end, Violetta sending the flowers Alfredo had bought for her scattering like blood across the stage, and here final child-like steps towards Alfredo, only to fall lifeless into his arms, were especially moving.

The design was simple and effective. The scenes effortlessly shifted from club, to picture perfect country garden, back to club (this time with spotlights, oversized dice and playing cards to emphasize the gambling between Alfredo and his rivals), then to a solitary chair pinpointing the loneliness and frailty that took over Violetta’s life.

This is what opera is all about - a well-known and well-loved story being shaken out, dusted down and brought startlingly back to life.

Angela Goodall in Words and Music, March/April 2001

Perhaps I am not the best person to review this production. The decision to sing in Italian, although on the whole well done, apart from one or two minor errors, raises many questions. As an Italian speaker and being very familiar with the piece, I had no difficulty in understanding this unusual, updated production.

One or two of the concepts I felt didn’t work but the updating of the two wild party scenes underlined the nature of the life that Violetta had lived, Act II, Scene 2 was more successful than Act I where grouping made it difficult to identify main characters and their relationships. Musically, the performance was first class and enjoyable throughout. Alfredo (Philip Pooley on the 2nd of February) not so lyrical in Act I, warmed in Act II, Scene 1, although the Director had him struggling with a deck chair in one of Verdi’s finest tenor recitatives, he added a distinctive timbre to the ensembles.

Violetta (Candida Langston on 2nd February) was musically secure if rather cool in Act 1, but really blossomed in Act II Scene 1 which, with the addition of the excellent Giorgio Germont of Craig Smith, was superbly sung and, for me, most sensitively acted.

The orchestra played beautifully throughout. There was a lovely clarinet phrase in Act II as good as I’ve ever heard and the chorus were in great voice, the big ensemble at the end of Act II was truly impressive.

The questions – I had no problems but did those in the audience who do not speak Italian follow as easily? Perhaps an unconventional production plus a foreign language tested their comprehension too much?