La Traviata – Review – Leeds Grand
La Triaviata – Review
Leeds Grand, September 2014
by Sandra Callard
Guiseppe Verdi’s enduring opera La Traviata is the opening production of Opera North’s new 2014-15 season. It is probably the most popular and loved of all Verdi’s operas. The story concerns a Parisian courtesan, already ill with tuberculosis. She wins the love of a young man, Alfredo, who comes from a respectable family in Provence. The tragic story which follows is underscored by the glorious music and arias which are familiar to many, regardless of whether they are opera fans or not.
As the brilliant Opera North orchestra play the spellbinding overture, the stage is dark except for Violetta. She stands, back to the audience, looking at a large shining moon. The globe slowly evolves into the picture of a camera travelling through the human body, showing the signs of tuberculosis. This extremely clever and effective device is one of the best opening stage scenes I have seen in a long time. The movements of the camera exactly shadow the overture.
The first act is a riotous party at Violetta’s house. It is probably as near to an orgy as you dare get on stage. The costumes are vivid and beautiful. The Opera North chorus do a fantastic job of recreating a Parisian evening’s entertainment. It is difficult to distinguish which era or even century this production is set in. The costumes do not give us a clue. They could be Victorian, Edwardian or 1920s. But nevertheless they are beautiful to look at.
“A long and taxing part”
South Korean singer, Hye-Youn Lee takes the demanding role of Violetta Valery. Ji-Min Park, from Seoul, plays her lover Alfredo. Although Lee’s soaring soprano is slightly nervous in the opening scenes, she soon gathers confidence and ultimately does justice to the magnificent arias.
Park’s Alfredo is attractive and endearing. He looks good and has a strong stage presence. But his voice, fine as it is, does not achieve great heights or resonance. Nevertheless, Lee and Park are an engaging couple, despite Lee’s small and stocky stature somewhat belying her character’s chronic illness. I do think, however, that Violetta’s deathbed scene is a triumph for Lee.
Her voice improves as the night progresses and is at its height as she is dying. Violetta is an extremely long and taxing part. It demands Lee holds the stage for most of the time. But she copes magnificently and Park supports her admirably. Indeed Park portrays Alfredo’s love for Violetta so touchingly, that we suffer with him at her rejection.
“A brilliant innovation”
Those who are not overly familiar with La Traviata will be glad to see screens at either side of the stage. These translate the words of the Italian libretto into English. Although a synopsis of the opera is always useful in this respect, I found the translation immeasurably helpful. The positioning of the screens only needs a slight movement of the eyes to see them. So you do not miss any of the stage action. I thought this was a brilliant innovation.
A night at the opera is always an occasion. This thoughtful and multi-layered production delivers on almost every count.
La Traviata is part of Opera North’s new season at Leeds Grand Theatre, which also includes The Coronation of Poppea and The Bartered Bride
images: Richard H Smith