Music: Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave
Original Director: David McVicar
Revival Director: Sarah Crisp
The ever-popular La Traviata – Verdi’s most performed and well-loved opera – is back in WNO’s repertoire at the start of the autumn 2023 season. A revival of WNO’s original co-production with Scottish Opera in 2009, performed again some four years ago, McVicar’s adherence to the traditional is proof – if proof were needed – that the tried and trusted, as well as the more experimental, still has a secure place in the world of popular opera.
Centred around the doomed love of Parisian belle monde courtesan Violetta for the young but penniless Alfredo Germont, the themes – thwarted love, duty and tragic death– are still relevant today. Even more so is the fight against social injustice which runs beneath the surface – which was Verdi’s intention back in the mid-nineteenth century, when the opera received its first performance in Venice. McVicar’s opulent revival, with its sumptuous period setting, fairly reeks of decadence, including subtle changes from last time around by production designer Tanya McCallin.
All in all, a wonderful backdrop, against which Australian Mauritian Soprano Stacey Alleaume makes her debut with WNO. As principal soloist with Australian Opera, Alleaume brings an expertise to the central and demanding role of Violetta that earned her a standing ovation from many of the audience on the opening night in Cardiff. Her soaring soprano copes well with the skill required in performing some of Verdi’s most demanding arias, plus an ability to act which makes her an ideal choice for the role.
Opposite her, as Violetta’s lover Alfredo Germont, the young Korean singer David Junghoon Kim brings a sound tenor to the stage, waxing lyrical at times in his duets with Alleaume, but also showing an awareness of the necessity to hold back in earlier scenes to return full force in the heart-rending finale.
The role of Alfred’s father Giorgio Germont is demanding in that Germont senior is an unsympathetic character (particularly so in today’s mores) and is sung here by Mark S Doss’s, whose baritone strengthens as it reaches the finale. Anglo Italian mezzo soprano Francesca Saracino is a perky Flora, party girl who is Violetta’s friend and part confidante. Saracino is a talented member of the WNO’s justly famed chorus, as is Sian Meinar in the role of Violetta’s maid Annina, proving once again how important its world-renowned chorus is to Welsh opera.
Choreographer Sirena Tocco works with the original choreography by Andrew George with some wonderful jumps and grands jetės executed superbly by the dancers giving the gypsy dancers a naughty can-can with flipped and swirling skirts. As for the costumes – the elegant gowns of the era, with their low-cut bodices and the bustles favoured at that time, are perfect down to the last detail.
A couple of glitches with scene changes on opening night in Cardiff- often a problem with touring productions – will by now have been rectified and conductor Alexander Joel’s returns to the WNO to give a magnificent interpretation of Verdi’s wonderful score. With its sheer musicality and well-known arias sung in their original Italian (with surtitles in English and Welsh) altogether an evening to enjoy to the full.
Runs until Saturday, 24th September, at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, then touring.