Eight months after my first operatic experience, the Welsh National Opera has returned with another series of classic operas for their Autumn Season at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton.
I was very impressed with Don Giovanni back in March, and so I leapt at the chance to see another performance. This time, it was Verdi’s turn, with his famous La Traviata.
‘The Fallen Woman” – perhaps a perfect next step after starting with an opera about a rakish, philandering man! La Traviata, to give you a quick overview, follows the luxurious life of Violetta; a courtesan who tragically sacrifices long sought-after love before being consumed by an ill-fated illness.
As with my experience with ballet and opera in the past, I found it useful to read through the synopsis in detail before the show began. While you have the surtitles to help you out with the translation from Italian to English (god bless those surtitles!) once you know the general gist of the plot, you can enjoy the spectacle of it all instead of worrying too much about who’s who and what’s what.
Because that is what it is; a spectacle. La Traviata is opulent and expansive; we launch into a decadent party scene where guests sing of pleasure and love and lust (once Alfredo, Violetta’s lover, has briefly cast a sad figure in front of the curtains). The costumes are gorgeous, the set is grand, and the singing is hearty.
This opulence continues, even when the storyline becomes sadder and sadder. We are, of course, in 19th-century France, and only the best is good enough for Violetta. That is until she begins to change her ways for the sake of love. Though there is a slight tinge of sadness, there is still finery; she may have had to sell her riches, but she is still resplendent in red.
Violetta’s fate is sealed at the very start; as I’ve mentioned, her beloved Alfredo begins the performance in mourning. Something else worth noting, too, is that the stage floor is actually an over-sized slab of marble; part of Violetta’s own headstone. Her story and her downfall are played out upon her own grave; now if that’s not foreshadowing and strong symbolism, I don’t know what is.
It is these small touches and seemingly hidden nuances that make the production that much richer and adds more depth. I love clever elements like that, and this is a clever production.
The cast is expansive, though there are plenty of opportunities for solos and duets. Anush Hovhannisyan as Violetta herself is captivating; she has a presence on stage that can’t be ignored and a voice that manages to be powerful one moment and subtle and vulnerable the next. She performs her heartbreak beautifully. Kang Wang as Alfredo Germont is also impressive and believable as a man very much in love, and Roland Wood as Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, has an incredible voice that demands you sit up and pay attention to every word he sings.
There were moments when I found La Traviata to be a little slow; but I am aware that I am very used to rapid action and quick storylines, especially after Don Giovanni! This production is heavy on the poignant solos and heartfelt duets; but that’s the whole point of the story and they are very beautiful.
Much like Don Giovanni too, these tender moments are peppered with passion, comedy, and bawdiness, too, and it creates the perfect balance.
I was, again, worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the production; but I really enjoyed it and even recognised a few pieces of Verdi’s music (confession: I’m a listener of Classic FM).
That’s the beautiful thing about opera, too; if you lose your way with the plot, you can allow yourself to be swept up in the music instead. The orchestra is just wonderful.
I had a lovely evening watching La Traviata; it is an ardent and tender production that is a feast for the eyes and a treat for the ears. It will certainly soothe you and it is a wonderful ‘classic’ opera to go and see. I think if I am being totally honest, Don Giovanni just pips it to the post if I were to choose a favourite between the two, but it’s a tough call. They are both very different.
I was swept along by La Traviata and its sumptuous and sorrowful storyline.
I was also invited backstage beforehand for a tour; it was impressive to see all the behind-the-scenes magic that makes a show like this so wonderful. The cast and the team behind WNO’s operas were so friendly and welcoming and I loved seeing the costumes, makeup and set – it gave the whole show extra depth. You can watch my tour on my Instagram Stories Highlights. Everyone works so hard to make a show like this happen, and they really are a fantastic team.
This latest production just confirms my opinion that opera (like any theatre, and poetry) is not elitist or dull. It plays on emotions that endure the centuries, and translates the thoughts and feelings of humans into sound; this singing and music come straight from the soul.
La Traviata is part of WNO’s whole Autumn Season, including War and Peace and La Cenerentola, which is at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre until Saturday 24 November; visit Mayflower’s website to find out more and book your tickets.
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I was invited to review this performance, but as always all views are honest and completely my own.
Imagery courtesy of Mayflower Theatre.
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