Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Ukrainian National Opera of Odessa
Ellen Kent and Opera International Sunderland Empire and touring
With Ellen Kent and Opera International you always know what you are getting: a traditional staging with singers who are, at worst, competent, or, at best, excellent.
So it is with the Ukrainian La Traviata. It has a superb Violetta in Larysa Zuyenko and an Alfredo who, if not quite of the same standard, is pretty damn good, in Akhmed Agadi. The costumes are sumptuous and the set more than adequate. I particularly liked Violetta's bedroom in Act III, with its gauzy draperies and shadowy lighting creating exactly the right mood.
The difficulty about La Traviata for me is the character of Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont (in this production sung by Vladimir Dragos). His demands that Violetta give up Alfredo for the sake of his (Giorgio's) daughter and his resolute ignoring of Violetta's saying that she will die soon doesn't sit easy with the total change in Act III. It makes the character very difficult to play: either he is pompous and totally self-centred (which makes the change almost unbelievable) or he is tortured himself, recognising that the happiness of one of his children has to be sacrificed for the sake of the other (which makes the change much more acceptable).
Mr Dragos did not solve the problem. Indeed, he didn't seem to recognise that there is a problem. He simply sang the part and his body language and facial expression changed little throughout. His voice is good, there is no doubt about that, with a strong timbre, but there was little acting there and so we lost much of the tension of the first scene of Act II.
There is also a predictability about the movement which almost screams "this is an opera" in the scenes with the chorus. Take the party in Violetta's salon in Act I, for example: in terms of crowd reaction, movement, positioning and even body language, with (or even without) slight changes of costume it could have been transferred into almost any other opera with a similar setting without anyone noticing the difference. Not that this audience at the Empire - or, I suspect, most audiences - care. As long as the singers are good, the costumes attractive and colourful, and the set appropriate, they'll go away happy!
And tonight's audience at the Empire certainly did, for what they saw was a well sung, well presented, almost classical staging of a favourite opera - which is what they wanted.
The tour continues, with "La Traviata" in repertory with "Madama Butterfly", until 26th May
Reviewer: Peter Lathan