Violetta – Arcola Theatre, London

Composer: Giuseppi Verdi 

Director: Ashley Pearson

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

For an opera that seeks to examine the life of a single woman and the man who claims he loves her, La Traviata contains an awful lot of extra stuff – people, story, bombast.

Violetta presents a gem of an idea – why not actually focus on Violetta for the duration, making her story actually about her. It’s simple without being simplistic, and presents a new examination that digs into the psychology of one of opera’s leading characters in an intimate way. So, it’s well-conceived, but unfortunately, flaws in the execution here mean it doesn’t land the punches it throws.

The story is familiar – a sickly Parisian courtesan is courted by Alfredo, and gives up her high-rolling life for one of countryside idyll. An intervention by Alfredo’s mother (a twist on the traditional visit from daddy Germont) sees her abandon Alfredo and return to Paris, where he follows and makes a shameful spectacle of himself before a tearful sickbed reunion in the final act.

Beginning with a pleasant, but confusingly placed duet between Loretta Hopkins (singing Violetta) and Alison Thorman (The Mother) the music in the piece is stripped back with just Simon Howat on the piano as accompaniment. It works well, but some odd choices mean that a lot of the pieces now feel rushed as if the performers are sprinting through to get to the next one. With a lack of chemistry between the two supposed lovers (following someone with halting, lacklustre steps around a dressing room does not radiate devotion ardour) it feels less like a moving, emotional story and more like a technical singing exercise. Credit where it’s due though, Hopkins and Ben Leonard (Alfredo) deliver a thoroughly enjoyable (though sexless) Un dì, felice, eterea.

The relationship between The Mother and the others is much more interesting than that between the lovers. Present on stage for the full 90 minutes, she drives home the message the production seeks to communicate – Violetta’s life (and Alfredo’s to a similar extent) is not hers to live and control. Twisting from the usual father to this more emotionally attuned mother role brings out a new level of pain from Violetta as she’s asked to leave Alfredo. It’s this change more than anything else that helps uncover the extra story from a well-known narrative and create real value for the audience.

That novelty and focus on the journey of Violetta as a person rather than an accessory in a man’s world is smart, inventive and enjoyable. Sung well, it sadly lacks bite and passion – the two main characteristics that made this sad story attractive in the first place.

Runs until 31 July 2019 

Review Overview

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lacking verve 

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