alfredo and Violetta

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta and as David Junghoon Kim Alfredo Picture: Julian Guidera

La traviata

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome


Sir David McVicar’s La Traviata really is a sumptuous production of Verdi’s tragic love story, everything about it exudes the wealth and extravagance of 19th century French society in a glorious version of this well known opera.

First staged in 2009 you wonder if any company could afford such a lavish production these days with its magnificent scenery, splendid period costumes and wonderful black drapes (designer Tanya McCallin). The heavy, ruffled drapes add a sombre air, this is a tragic tale after all, and frame scenes and even act as stage dividers, all wonderfully employed by revival director Sarah Crisp.

But a glorious setting for any opera is of little value if it is not matched by the music and the singing and after an indifferent start the voices came alive.

Indifferent only that the opera is an emotionally charged love affair with a tragic end – where would opera have been without consumption – and the music and excellent singing might have been telling us about the emotion but we didn’t really feel it.

Violetta, sung by Australian-Mauritian soprano Stacey Alleaume, is a courtesan which, if you are not sure, is at the posh end of a trade providing services to men not available on the NHS.

father and Violetta

Mark S Doss Giorgio Germont Stacey Alleaume Violetta

Her voice is just wonderful, a real joy to listen to, one of those crystal clear sopranos with each word and note clear as a bell, a wonderful range and voice that can raise the dead or soothe a baby whatever the emotions needed.

She is holding a party along with her older protector Baron Douphol, sung with all the fun of a mortician with gout by James Cleverton. The script says protector but, lets be honest, she’s his mistress and he’s such a dour chap his pulling power can only be his wallet.

Then along comes young Alfredo, sung by impressive Korean tenor David Junghoon Kim. He is already in love with Violetta, which cuts out a few scenes of getting to know you for those audience members with trains to catch.

Violetta is flattered, but initially turns his proffered love for her down, but the seeds have been sown – and we get the first inkling all is not well as she feels ill and has a coughing fit.

After an interval things have changed dramatically. We are three months on and Violetta and Alfredo are living together in a country house just outside Paris, where it seems the now ex-courtesan has been selling off her belongings to pay the bills and the couple are broke.

Alfredo is devastated when he finds out and wings it to Paris to earn some cash. The problems are just starting though as up pops Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, played by the wonderful bass-baritone Mark S Doss, who’s first career choice was training as Catholic priest incidentally, and what a loss to opera that would have been.

He pleads with Violetta to leave Alfredo, not that he is against the affair of his son and a courtesan, but is concerned the scandal could threaten his daughter’s prospects of marriage into a . . . respectable family.

The whole scenario has changed. The emotion was in the words and music in the first act, but you were only hearing it, in the second act you started to feel it. The shame and despair of Alfredo, the terrible dilemma of Violetta, the pleading of Giorgo.

It is all about to go nuclear with Violetta heading back to the Baron, Alfredo reading her note telling him she has done a runner and a big party in Paris. Violetta is there, so is the Baron and up pops a furious, uninvited, and tired and emotional as a newt Alfredo, feeling rejected, deceived and distraught. He beats the Baron at cards, flings his winnings at Violetta and gets invited to a duel. Quite a party.

The emotions are reaching even hearts of stone by now but death has been waiting in the wings all along and finally we end months later as the now penniless Violetta is dying, with her only company her long time companion Annina, sung by Cheshire born soprano Sian Meinir. The pair are presumably reduced to living, as per opera tradition, in a Paris garret. Alfredo, who has now been told the noble reason Violetta left him, arrives along with his father and the lovers are at last reunited, even if only in death.

Along the way there are also splendid supporting characters such as Flora sung by Anglo Italian mezzo-soprano Francesca Saracino and the deep bass of Dr Grenvil, sung by Martin Lloyd,

Verdi’s score is familiar but as an opera it is not just about the singing, it is a tragic love story, a women who gives up her own chance of happiness for the good of her lover and someone who she has not even met. It’s like an early version of Dolly Parton’s I will Always Love You.

And it only works if the cast don’t just sing it but make an audience feel it, and to their credit the leads, support and, of course, the wonderful WNO chorus managed it in spades.

Everything is enhanced by the wonderful set and telling lighting from Jennifer Tipton and you cannot ignore the glorious music from the always magnificent WNO orchestra. What we get is opera as it should be, music to enjoy and a story to feel with voices that touch the soul. To 11-11-23.

Roger Clarke


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