La Traviata – Review – Leeds Grand, 2015
By Sandra Callard, January 2015
Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, La Traviata, made a shaky start in Venice in 1853, but since its 1854 relaunch, it consistently tops the operatic charts. Opera North’s 2014/15 season brings Verdi’s sublime music to another full house at Leeds Grand Theatre.
The opening scene works well. A large disc containing swirling shapes of tuberculosis bacteria under a microscope (yes, it did take a moment to figure this out) projects on to the back of the stage. Violetta stands, her back to the audience, and analyses her future. She stares at the swirling patterns in the disc. Everything is extremely atmospheric and effective.
This is the second production of ‘La Trav’ in recent times at The Grand. Violetta Valery, the tuberculosis-ridden courtesan of the title, is this time sung by Polish born soprano, Anna Jeruc Kopec, with heart-rending conviction. Performing here in her first role for Opera North, her soaring soprano is a joy to listen to. She is physically perfect for the role. She is tall and slim, pale skinned and dark-haired. Her acting ability brings joy and pathos to the massive role of Violetta. I spot more than a few hands move surreptitiously towards their eyes to wipe away a tear as the tragic story unfolds.
“Believable and moving”
Jeruc Kopec dominates the Final Act. She conveys illness, despair, exhilaration and love, before losing her fight to live again with Alfredo. She portrays the well-known phenomenon of a final surge of energy before death in a believable and moving way.
Ji-Min Park, a charming young tenor from Seoul, plays Alfredo. He is the perfect foil for Violetta. His youth and naivety vie with her age and worldly experience. Park has an appealingly handsome stage presence. His rendition of the wonderful drinking song at the opening party gives us a taste of his range and versatility. He puts this to good use as the scenes move on. In the final scene, his voice echoes his grief in a touching and palpable way.
Stephen Gadd offers a solid and convincing performance as Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont. His ringing baritone brings conviction to the role. He pulls off this difficult role as he succeeds in making us hate him for his cruelty to Violetta. Yet we also empathise with him as the tragic results of his meddling come to fruition. His attempts to make amends are sad and pathetic.
“Familiar tingle to the spine”
The ever-reliable Chorus of Opera North offer compact support. The activities at Violetta’s opening party are novel, to say the least. It’s fun to let your eyes rove over the members of the Chorus as the party proceeds to see what antics prevail. I spot one couple moving rather cleverly on the floor to the music of the drinking song in Act 1. Great fun, and some light relief as the opera proceeds towards its ultimate tragedy.
It’s easy to overlook orchestras for credit. But this has to be given in droves to Opera North’s orchestra and its conductor, Oliver von Dohnanyi. They do full justice to Verdi’s glorious music. The orchestra brings the familiar tingle to the spine as they begin the wonderful overture known to millions the world over.
This is a triumph of a production for Opera North, and in particular for Anna Jeruc Kopec. The audience says it all as she takes her bow at the end, with numerous curtain calls. A wonderful Night at the Opera.
photos: Richard H Smith