Director Alessandro Talevi has revised his 2014 production of Verdi's La traviata, but the essentials remained - Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 8 November 2022. Set in the 1890s, it had more than a whiff of fin-de-siècle decadence, Act I particularly, with Gavan Ring's Gastone cutting an Oscar Wildean figure as he introduced Nico Darmanin's ill at ease, callow Alfredo into Violetta's circle. It also, incidentally, allowed the entertainers in Flora's Act II party to present their gypsies-and-matadors show as a potted version of Carmen - an amusing anachronism, given the respective dates of the two operas' composition.
As Violetta, Alison Langer commanded the stage from the beginning, visually - rising from the sea of crashed-out guests around her at the end of the Prelude - and vocally, with a tone indicating a world of experience, not all of it welcome, and in command of the role's full range. Thinking over her meeting with Alfredo, she addressed 'E strano' to the other girls, while 'A fors'e lui' was an inward meditation, and a moment of remarkable stillness. Alfredo's voice in the street outside really did sound distant, for once - or did Violetta imagine it?
Act II's country retreat was simply established, by a blue sky backdrop, which gradually clouded over - so subtly you hardly noticed it happening. Nico Darmanin's voice now gave Alfredo a degree of greater maturity, even bravado.
Damiano Salerno made Giorgio Germont's sententiousness believable, suggesting an element of ambiguity. In 'Non sapete quale affetto', Alison Langer conveyed Violetta's underlying panic. Giorgio's silhouette against the backdrop after he leaves the immediate scene was ominous without being melodramatic. The latter part of the party scene crackled with growing tension, and Giorgio's intervention as Alfredo turned on Violetta was compelling.
The Act III prelude featured part of the film that played throughout the Act I Prelude the last time we saw the production - a microscope's-eye view of the infection destroying Violetta's life. As before, masked carnival revellers, all men, were seen taking their seats at the back to watch as her last moments played out, her blood-stained pillow telling us all we needed to know. Langer caught her physical and vocal frailty in 'Addio del passato', while Darmanin and Salerno gave well-rounded portrayals of Alfredo and Giorgio trying to come to terms with events.
Verdi always plays to the strengths of the Opera North Chorus, and did so again here, while conductor Jonathan Webb commanded the ebb and flow of the music's pacing, Madeleine Boyd's designs were well served by Matthew Haskins' lighting.
The sight of the masked men returning at the end, rising to applaud Violetta's final performance, nailed the sheer cynicism of a hedonistic world where relationships are reduced to the level of monetary transactions, and in which everyone is out of their emotional and psychological depth.
Copyright © 24 November 2022