La Traviata

Introducing miss Elisa Amesbury, theatre director and contributor for this review of La Traviata at The Coliseum.

In this bicentennial year of Verdi’s birth, you can expect Verdi masterpieces being produced left, right and centre, especially here in London. Here are my thoughts on the first of these celebratory productions – La Traviata at the ENO. La Traviata is Verdi’s take on the Alexandre Dumas story of the unlikely love that blossoms between the beautiful courtesan Violetta and the naïve but ardent nobleman Alfredo. The oh-so complicated life of Violetta, and the unparalleled beauty of Verdi’s score is usually more than enough to pull at the heart strings but I left Peter Konwitschny’s production feeling impressed rather than moved. During the beautiful, fragile opening bars of the prelude, the sumptuous drapes of the Coliseum were drawn back to reveal yet another set of beautifully lit red drapes. And so from the get-go, the theatricality of Johannes Leiacker’s set, underlines the idea that Violetta is constantly performing. Dressed in a gown that matches the ever present drapes and sporting a series of wigs, she becomes a poignant figure, jumping through hoops desperately trying to please others – whether these ‘others’ are her hedonistic Parisian friends, or her new lover Alfredo, the costumes never quite suit. The lumberjack shirt/alice band combo she wears to play the role of ‘happy country wife’ in act 2, is painful to look act, let alone wear.

Despite some glorious vocal performances (Corinne Winter was outstanding) I found it hard to get emotionally engaged in the story. Not enough space or time was given to finding the truth of the supposed connection between Alfredo and Violetta that should be the driving force of the opera. Peter Konwitschny’s production privileged comment over storytelling, it seemed to rely on the audience having a prior knowledge of the narrative. I think it is important that a director brings their own point of view to their work but this should never be to the detriment of the story, and this story in particular is about love – the kind of unselfish love that is too good to be true. I’m not a romantic but opera is no place for scepticism. While I have nothing against being required to think about what I am seeing, my instinct is that Opera, arguably more than any other art form, should make its audience feel. You have to feel that the connection between Alfredo and Violetta has been real (even if just for a moment) otherwise what is the point?

A wise theatre director once said – “If you need to explain your production to the audience in a programme note- then it hasn’t worked” – and so, as I wandered down to Charing Cross tube after the show trying my best to explain to my perfectly cultured and perceptive companion what the invisible curtains of the last act had been about, I wondered A) whether I should have bought a programme (although at six quid a pop it was never likely) and B) whether Peter Konwitschny’s production was a little too clever for it’s own good.

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