Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata is possibly one of the most famous operas of all times, containing a number of equally famous arias that would be easily recognisable even to the ear of the layman. This poses an additional challenge to the cast, called to match a degree of expectation from the audience that is likely to be higher than normal. It also generates the risk of boiling down the whole production to its most iconic tunes, devoting less attention than deserved to the rest. WNO’s production, the second in their Autumn season, avoids both risks, delivering a highly curated performance with a poignant aesthetic. The latter is particularly important considering that the plot of Verdi’s work, just like that of the book by Dumas it is adapted from, is in many ways flimsy – so that the narration cannot focus primarily on the events, but must delve on the characters and their emotions in order to be effective.
This means that the performances are even more central than usual, and singing skills have to be matched by the quality of the acting. In most cases the cast delivers this to a high standard, adding layers of meaning to some scenes that would otherwise be at risk of being too static. Linda Richardson delivers a consistently strong performance as Violetta; her vocals are confident and refined throughout, only wavering on the higher pitches, where she comes across occasionally as faint. Her delivery of the character is also studied and highly effective, with some bold choices that work perfectly with the context: most remarkable is the unusual decision to perform Sempre Libera – one of the most recognisable sections of the opera and a pivotal point towards the end of the first act – in a hysterical fashion, highlighting the breakdown of Violetta’s will and the inner conflict with the feeling she doesn’t dare acknowledge. Her actions on stage are a counterpoint to the words of the aria and represent the character’s turmoil perfectly. From the acting point of view, hers is certainly the strongest performance. Kang Wang is also confident and convincing as Alfredo, with full-bodied vocals only vitiated by a slight eccess of vibrato, and a good stage presence. His performance appears to gain in confidence, and therefore in quality, starting with the second act. Also worthy of mention is the excellent performance by Roland Wood as Giorgio Germont. His stage presence, while static, is perfectly suited for his character, as exemplified by the scene where his immobility creates a jarring contrast to Violetta’s desperate lunging for a comforting hug; and his vocal performance was intense, smooth and confident.
Kang Wang and Roland Wood
WNO continues to pursue a more philological approach to its staging and costumes, and this keeps proving to be a wise choice, given the choice of operas for this season – all texts that would not necessarily profit from an adaptation in a different setting or style. Once again the stage setting is fairly minimal, relying on drapery and a see-through background to convey the sensation of opulence without being excessive. A more disquieting note, however, almost a foreshadowing of what is to come, is introduced through a choice of colour schemes that always privileges darker tones: there is a lot of black in the setting and dress, and the baroque almost contains a hint of Gothic, a clever way of complementing the general tone of the opera and the developments of the plot. Against this background, the occasional spots of bright colour (the ballet in the second act, Violetta’s red dress at the party) stand out in an effective way.
WNO’s production of La Traviata is a reasoned take on a classic that decides to invest on subtlety rather than pomp, a choice that ultimately proves successful. It is yet another proof of the consistently high standards of these productions. This is another solid performance from what is shaping up to be a strong Autumn season, respectful of Verdi’s work and clever in interpreting it. The only notable glitch making it less enjoyable was the occasional lagging in the surtitles, but both performances and direction matched the very high standard that WNO appears to be setting for itself.
Further performances at WMC September 30, October 4, 6. Venue Cymru, Llandudno, 17, 19.