North East & YorkshireOperaReview

Opera North: La Traviata – Leeds Grand Theatre

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi

Director: Alessandra Talevi

Conductor: Jonathan Webb

The curtain rises on the Prelude to La Traviata, hushed strings as Violetta sways seductively in the company of other young women. The whole thing is voyeuristic, a large eye following their every move. Then Violetta’s party properly starts, lords and drunks falling about among extravagantly costumed ladies. The assorted gentlemen are much more clearly defined than usual, notably Gavan Ring’s gloriously foolish Gastone. The orchestra and chorus now are in blazing form for Jonathan Webb, his Opera North debut as a conductor already a triumph.

La Traviata proceeds by alternating. After the uproarious party at which Alfredo falls for Violetta (disturbing signs of her tuberculosis), we move to the countryside for the first part of Act 2, a beautifully simple design from Madeleine Boyd. Here, among detailed exposition, we encounter the key scene of the opera, Germont pere pleading with Violetta to leave his boy.

She succumbs and the scene moves immediately to a party at Flora’s and we are back at the beginning – except that now everything is soured between Violetta, Alfredo and her erstwhile protector Baron Douphol. Alfredo disgraces himself, his father appears in time to chastise him. And so to Act 3 when we are back to the intimate: her servant Annina and Dr. Grenvil watch over her final minutes in the fortuitous company of the Germonts.

Watching a perfectly judged performance where every little detail counts down to the blood on the pillow or Violetta’s agonised reaction to the Act 3 revellers, one is first of all reminded of the superb stagecraft of Verdi and his librettist Francesco Maria Piave, but secondly of how skilfully Alessandro Talevi, reviving his 2014 production, has interpreted the opera for a modern audience – nothing excessive, everything in its place, the witty Carmen parody for the Spanish dancers, for instance.

La Traviata requires a huge number of named parts, all carried off splendidly: Amy J Payne, worldly, but endlessly sympathetic as Annina, Victoria Sharp, not in her best voice, but splendidly flamboyant as Flora, James Cleverton standing firmly to his rights as the Baron, Matthew Stiff sombre as the Doctor in his away-from-the-party brown suit, and so on.

That leaves the three principals, all the parts double-cast. Alison Langer paces herself, the first party scene delivered stylishly, then a building of momentum to an unbearably moving death scene, the death itself beautifully handled. The Maltese tenor Nico Darmanin seems a little stiff at first, vocally and in terms of acting, but is it simply the country boy in Paris? Either way he takes his lead from Langer and plays his part in the desperately affecting final scene. Damiano Salerno, like Darmanin an Opera North debutant, brings presence and a smooth legato tone to Germont, one of the most ambiguous characters in opera – except for his own admission that he did wrong!

This is opera at its best, nothing to frighten the horses in terms of director’s opera, but a degree of involvement that comes from all the elements fusing together.

Runs until 29th October 2022, before continuing on tour.

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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