BWW REVIEW: Verdi's Tragic Love Story Of The Fallen Woman, LA TRAVIATA Returns To Sydney Opera House
Thursday 9th February 2017, 7:30pm, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Elijah Moshinsky's (Director) staging of Giuseppe Verdi's LA TRAVIATA returns to Sydney Opera House, this time under the eye of Revival Director Hugh Halliday. The opulent, traditional opera styling and the classic opera story of a doomed love story, ending with a death from an incurable disease is a perfect selection for those new to opera or visitors to Sydney wanting to experience the Sydney Opera House and Opera Australia's work.
Moshinsky's staging returns the design of LA TRAVIATA back to the 19th Century, where Verdi originally intended the story to unfold. Michal Yeargan's set and Peter J Hall's costumes draw on the society captured in Impressionist paintings of Renoir, Seurat and other artists of the era. Hall captures the extravagance of the 19th Century where a courtesan has the means to host a party in her apartments, women are clothed corseted tops and bustled skirts made of opulent fabrics and the men have a formality of three piece suits and cravats secured with tie pins. Yeargan's three sets capture the detail of Violetta's (Ermonela Jaho) Parisian rooms, filled with paintings, gold leaf and exquisite furniture; the influence of the exotic Morocco on Flora's (Dominica Matthews) home with mosaics and lanterns in sumptuous colours; and the grand simplicity of the courtyard of Violetta and Alfedo's (Ho-Yoon Chung) rural home.
Conductor Renato Palumbo returns to lead the Opera Australia Orchestra but is more subdued this time around compared to his 2015 energetic performance. This restraint is probably influenced by the two leads who both appear to require more pointed direction than in previous performances. Whilst the 2015 performance saw Rame Lahaj as Alfredo also loose connection with his Violetta, Lorina Gore, due to his following the conductor, both Jaho and Chung maintain a close eye on Palumbo to the point of destroying their characters' connection and intimacy particularly in what should be poignant moments in the last act, indicating a possible lack of rehearsal time with the visiting performers. It is unclear whether Halliday, Palumbo or the performers themselves are responsible for the mood shift from the 2015 production to this current interpretation of Moshinsky's vision. Along with the disconnect between Violetta and Alfredo, which lacks honesty and sensitivity in their love, Jaho expresses Violetta with an anger towards everything with unvarying presentation, losing the sympathy that Lorina Gore garnered for her Violetta in 2015.
Whilst the role of Violetta is soprano, Jaho focuses on the lower range of the work which, along with conveying the previously mentioned anger, also removes the innocence, regret and reform that the courtesan has supposed to have undergone when falling in love with Alfredo. When she does transition to her head voice, the moves are obvious and vocals become thin, in stark contrast to her lower strength. There is also a lack of nuance and subtlety and understanding of the reason for the original director's choices that Australian opera audiences had come to expect from Opera Australia, reverting to the overplayed clunky acting reminiscent of old world opera.
Chung similarly lacks the sensitivity and subtlety in his expression of what is supposed to be a lovesick suitor, heartbroken when he believes he's been dumped for Violetta's former protector. There also appears to be a fatigue creeping through in his vocals as they don't carry the strength and clarity one would expect from the tenor role.
For this production, the stand out performances come from the supporting characters, Dominica Matthews' Flora, Violetta's rival courtesan, John Longmuir's Gastone, Alfredo's friend, and José Carbó's Giorgio, Alfredo's father. All three, along with the rest of the ensemble bring the nuanced subtlety that audiences have come to expect and each expresses an understanding of their characters' back story without pulling focus too dramatically. Matthews gives Flora a fabulous playfulness and flirtation with a confidence that she's more successful than Violetta. The subtle sneer when presented at Violetta's party and the commanding gravitas as she leads her own celebration is delicious. Longmuir conveys Gastone's gentle concern for his friend, remaining just on the edge of the action as a strength and support whilst giving the hint that the friend has been putting up with Alfredo's anger and bitterness following being dumped. Carbó, as Alfedo's Father has the stately gravitas of a Father trying to save his family's reputation, capturing the concern for his daughter's welfare which he fears her brother could ruin if he persists in living with Violetta. His expression of Giorgio's remorse at bringing about his son's anger and grief by forcing the separation is palpable in the final act.
With an easy storyline to follow and recognisable music, LA TRAVIATA is a good introduction to Opera even if this production does have elements of the 'old world' traditional operas that lacked focus on the acting. As mentioned, supporting characters, presented by regulars with the Opera Australia company familiar with the Australian expectation of a fully rounded performance, go a long way in making up for the deficiencies from the guest performers expression. Given the show's long season, the role of Violetta is also shared with Lorina Gore and Emma Matthews so there is the opportunity to catch a more sensitive expression of the ill-fated Violetta.
Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House