A sense of foreboding is present right from the beginning of Scottish
Opera's production of La traviata.
Along with the tragic prelude music
of Act I (which is later to return in Act III as Violetta lies on her
death bed), Alfredo slowly walks across a path of leaves, pausing for
a moment in front of Violetta's now deserted house. The music moves
from melancholy to a boisterous dance as black velvet curtains reveal
we have now gone back in time to a night of debauchery at Violetta's house, the stage now full with a drunken chorus.
This is a production of stark contrasts. As the revellers depart, we begin to notice what they have been standing on - the floor is a giant fallen gravestone for Violetta. Act II, Scene I ends as Violetta announces to Alfredo she is leaving him, and the curtain reveals in Scene II a full return to the revels, complete with a seductive ballet sequence by the gypsies and bullfighters.
Director David McVicar has chosen to set this production right at the end of the 19th century, later than Verdi's original concept of contemporary 1850s dress (Venetian censors forced Verdi to set the opera in the 18th century for its premiere). The shamelessly hedonistic aspects of this opera are portrayed in full force. The Courtesans, wearing suitably revealing dresses, recline on sofas with their legs apart, in an attempt to woo their aristocratic guests. The set is incredibly stark, remaining largely the same throughout and transformed simply by the furniture on stage- tables and sofas which are later changed to Violetta's deathbed .
The real stars of the show are Carmen Giannattasio, with her wonderfully tragic Violetta, and the fantastically solid Richard Zeller as Giorgio Germont, father of Alfredo. Giannattasio's voice is magnificent, and she shows much versatility, from a light flippancy in Act I, to the highly strung emotions of Act II and finally a tragic tenderness as she lays dying in Act III, the words 'Addio, del passato' all the more moving with carnival celebrations going on outside her window. It is an amazing feat to give the impression of terminal illness whilst delivering such a fiendishly difficult vocal part with such perfection.
Federico Lepre's portrayal of Alfredo was perhaps not quite as strong vocally, but he characterised the part well, really standing out as something different from the debauched crowd in Act I. Furthermore, Lepre showed further versatility in his angry outburst in Act II, as he throws money down at Violetta's feet in payment for their last year spent together.
Whilst the more minor characters were vocally unimpressive, the chorus was very strong, singing with real conviction and really making the larger scenes come alive. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Joel-Hornak coaxed some particularly impressive sounds from the orchestra, from meltingly beautiful string playing in the preludes to Act I and III to the tender solo strings as Violetta later reads out a letter from Germont at the end of Act III. The orchestra also play the more boisterous music well, simply sparkling at the end of Act I. However, the balance was not perfect, and the orchestra was at times simply too loud; one should hope that by this point in the run, such problems would have been ironed out.
Overall, this was an thoroughly enjoyable evening, from the flamboyant performance by chorus and orchestra, to the real pathos of the talented Carmen Giannattasio. Any minor problems were thoroughly outweighed by the positive aspects of this production, along with the superb libretto, tragic plot and Verdi's magnificent score.
Photos: Bill Cooper