Score: Giuseppe Verdi,
Libretto Francesco Maria Piave
Conductor: Oliver von Dohnanyi
Director: Alessandro Talevi
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Opera North’s visit to The Lowry this season is offering striking variety. After a sparkling comedy the company turn to one of the great tragedies with La traviata Courtesan Violetta (Anna Jeruc-Kopec) exchanges a life of careless sensual pleasure for one of constant sacrifice when she falls in love with young nobleman Alfredo (Ji-Min Park). Violetta’s past profession and status, however, threatens the couple’s chance for a life together.
Director Alessandro Talevi shows a society full of barely –concealed desperation rather than stale decadence. Until the famous toast to beauty conductor Oliver von Dohnanyi sets a tremendously rapid pace for the first Act. As well as being breathlessly exciting this brings the sense of people with an empty existence running heedlessly from something rather than moving purposefully forward. The massed voices of the Opera North chorus overlap becoming an anxious cry to heaven rather than a celebration.
Anna Jeruc-Kopec’s Violetta also reflects an awareness of encroaching doom. As the overture plays Jeruc-Kopec stands stage centre studying microscopic images of the tuberculosis bacteria that will end her life. Violetta’s motivation is shaped by knowledge that she is not long for this world and must cram a lot of living into a brief time.
Ji-Min Park’s Alfredo gives the initial impression of a decent man out of place among 24-hour party people yet it soon becomes apparent that he is as much an addict as any. Alfredo wears his heart on his sleeve and turns nasty when his love is not reciprocated.
After a raucous opening Talevi shifts the mood in a more somber direction towards one of regret and stoic acceptance. Madeline Boyd’s sets become minimalist, with only a couch centre stage, but some striking backgrounds such as a sky clogged with stars that dwarf the antics of the celebrants.
The time signatures of Verdi’s score are so suggestive of dance as to indicate that the composer envisaged Violetta’s life a perpetual party. Director Talevi, however, portrays her less of a hedonist and more of a performer – even an actor. She lives her life as if on stage constantly entertaining others and her demise is played out in full view of a masked audience ghoulishly applauding.
La traviata’s mixture of early death and lost love is just the sort of overheated emotional conflict that is perfect for opera.