This brand new production of Verdi’s La Traviata by Peter Konwitschny is intellectual opera all pared down and hollowed out, it’s been boned and all the fat cut out, even – curiously enough- any mention of Violetta being a sex worker, which makes some of the story difficult to grasp. Giving a daughter to Germont just further muddles the motives of Violettas rejection of her declared love and it would have been better to use the word ‘whore’ and have it done with. Director Konwitschny has taken much out in his pursuit of realism it leaves this rather sharp and angled story less natural.
Read the synoposis here:
The set is an endless succession of huge curtains allowing us to both see and not see what is happening, they are suggestive of both the performance space itself and Violettas life being one long series of performances until the literal final curtain of her death. This is obvious but also powerfully simple. The lack of any other real furniture or set just highlighting the feeling of the unseen life beyond this curtained off space. This Spartan look throws every nuance of the music and singing into focus it also suggests that we – the audience- are part of that decadent world condemning Violetta and enjoying her downfall. Lighting Designer Joachim Klein works with delicate compassion to support the narritve flow whilst keeping the dramatic bursts in balance.
Violetta’s character is the only one in the entire opera who acts with any humility, humanity and honesty and removing these vital indications of her scandal and place in society was a cut too far for me, it made it more difficult to understand her fall and the motives of those around her. They are an ugly, rough, crude bunch and the misogamist and objectifying attitudes towards women are brought to the fore in this production.
It’s performed with power though and an untreated piece of emotional theatre, all the focus on the music and voices, although the ENO chorus do a good job – as always- of providing both some light relief and terrifying grotesques.
Michael Hofstetter’s conducting is spot on and the orchestra give this music the lift and energetic sense of spellbinding inevitability it needs. It was enthralling, the lack of interruption by interval giving the music a fresh compelling drive towards its monumental conclusions.
New American soprano Corinne Winters gave a wonderfully illuminating performance as party girl and fembot Violetta really throwing herself into the maelstrom of emotion, her voice is enthusiastic and vulnerable and effortlessly beautiful giving all the colour required by Verdi and she delivers those high notes with conviction and brilliance, lyric tenor Ben Johnson’s geeky shy Alfredo is yet another step towards the huge promise of his voice, every time I hear him he impresses me. Anthony Michaels-Moore’s Germont was forceful and blunt bringing out the mean and bullying manipulation edges just right.
The chorus were on great form and do a lot of rushing around the stage, ending up slumped in despair and tangled in ripped down curtains and slowly dragging themselves towards the wings, a great end for them although it did remind me of the final scene of the Rocky Horror Show.
This was the ENO doing what it does best, taking a well loved classic and reflecting and reviewing it to give it new life, teasing out the themes and subtext and pressing home the beauty of the music. It’s not the most charming or romantic production of La Travitta I’ve seen, none of the love scenes were convincing, but it was certainly the most arresting one, I was totally absorbed by its headlong rush into tragedy and the singing and music was of astonishing quality. Oh and it’s the shortest la Traviatta as there’s no interval, which ain’t so bad when you’re dealing with Verdi.
Go and be delighted, the final scene is a triumph of ENO’s pursuit of presenting new talent and allowing it to shine with undimmed brilliance.
ENO. London Coliseum, St Martins Lane
Tickets from £12
For more info or to book tickets see the ENO website here:
Feb 2, 7, 12, 21, 26 & Mar 1 at 7.30pm | Feb 9, 16, 23 at 6.30pm | Mar 3 at 3pm
Running time: 1hrs 50mins (NO INTERVAL)
Signed-performance, Tue Feb 12