Thursday, 10 September 2009
La Traviata Dress Rehearsal
Going against every grain of fair play in my body I thought I'd give a sneak peak of what to expect in the coming La Traviata at WNO. Of course, this was only a dress rehearsal and singers / orchestra (even the audience) rarely give of their best on these occasions, preferring to keep their powder dry until opening night – but as I'm otherwise detained for the opening performances I thought I'd foist my opinions on you to save me plagiarising proper reviewers work.
Where to begin? Singers? Obviously they count. The orchestra and conductor? To be fair you need both of these. How about director and designer...? Now, usually I tend to think of opera purely as a vocal entertainment and quite often neglect to pay attention to the visual side of things – but as has been pointed out to me by persons with a lot more experience in these matters – this is the McVicar / McCallin Traviata, so doffing my cap to experience I thought I'd start with the view and movement for a change...
The important thing to realise with this production is that essentially, unless I've got the wrong end of the stick and am holding a banana instead, it's told in flashback from, I assume, Alfredo's pov. It's this subjective take on the story that dictates the predominantly sombre colour scheme – if you're a lover of black then you're in for a treat. In fact, the whole of the stage is caught within a "final curtain" look with large drapes framing the view. Does it work? In a sense, if you "get", the premise then it does (assuming I'm not still holding the banana). However, if you don't, then the decadence, the whole fin de siecle portrayal may become a touch heavy to the eyes. But hey! This is opera, where happiness isn't in abundance! One or two stage directions (for props) are probably unneeded but I'll let you decide for yourselves. In all, it is a richly drawn setting with plenty of atmosphere for you to sink your melancholy into.
Escaping shaky ground to less shaky ground (no terra firma in sight though) I'll waffle on about the singers for a while...I beg their pardons already.
This has been my third production of Traviata since May – taking in Vienna and London's main houses. Why am I telling you this? Well, to explain that I was carrying some mighty big baggage into this production that I hoped wouldn't have me thinking, "Well, they're okay, but they're not as good as...". So please remember this is a dress rehearsal I'm talking about...
Violetta came in the elegant form of Greek soprano Myrto Papatanasiu making her UK debut. She'd recently stepped into some rather large shoes when subbing for Angela Gheorghiu at Munich in the same role so she had plenty of credentials to pop on to her WNO bio. Would it be a worthy use of ink? I'd say so. Pardon the pun but she's no shrinking Violetta with a large voice that carried through the orchestra with ease. The danger of having such a big voice is that a singer can sometimes become too reliant on it, but Papatanasiu managed to avoid this trap. Once or twice she carried a note too long for my liking, but this is only a minor quibble. A touch more colour in her top notes, or even a softness to allow a variation for the ear to enjoy would be welcome – and judging from recordings I'd heard of her previous to this dress rehearsal it's something she appears to be actively working on. In short, if you've bought a ticket, she will not short-change you at all and she may well develop into a singer worth keeping an eye on (and she dies a lot better than some Violetta's too).
Playing the clueless Alfredo (does money grow on trees my boy?) is Alfie Boe. To begin with he seemed to be singing with his head in a pillow such was the difference in volume between himself and Papatanasiu, and as the rehearsal continued he seemed to be very underpowered. Saving himself? Perhaps. As it was things weren't looking grand for him and as we neared the final act the biggest response he had elicited from the audience was when he slid naked from bed and quickly into his trousers at the beginning of the second act (and judging by the amarous oohs and aahhs coming from the females all around me I suggest he leaves by helicopter come opening night). I'm not sure if he forgot about saving himself in the final act, or if he had been affected by dress rehearsal apathy, but suddenly, from being an Alfredo who had short top notes and little volume, he grew into his role in a way that suggests there is a lot more to come when the production opens for real.
Giorgio Germont was sung by Uruguayan baritone Dario Solari. To steal a phrase from a language tape I'm currently grappling with – "It pleases me" to report that Mr Solari is in good shape. A warm voice with a solid foundation he just about edged Papatanasiu in the dress rehearsal, and it was really their scene in act two that was the thoroughbred highlight of the afternoon. Of all the singers on stage he is the one who knows his voice best and it shows. Perhaps I'd like a touch more oomph in his high notes – but I'm just being greedy. Catch him while you can, because if he continues to sing like this then WNO audiences won't be seeing much more of him I'm afraid.
Honourable mentions too to Louise Poole and David Soar who made telling contributions with the little they had to do. The same too can be said of the dancers, especially the toreador and his bull, all shaped in a refreshingly buttock slapping original manner by choreographer Andrew George.
The orchestra, bedecked in shorts / jeans / leotards and conducted by a non-leotard wearing Andrea Licata, played quite well given that the tempi were a mixture of slow and quick; generally quicker than I've been used to, which made for some interesting passages. But honestly – unless they make an almighty mistake I'm not going to notice so it's best I leave them alone to do what they do so well...
Finishing off the show I can't forget the chorus who, predictably, as usual, the same old effect, were marvellous. If I could I'd like to take them with me to other houses to show them off because they are top drawer in my book. No, I don't know anyone in the chorus in case you're wondering.
From beginning to end this WNO, Scottish Opera and Gran Teatre del Liceu co-production is elegant fare that ticks all the boxes. Papatanasiu plays a strong willed Violetta to Boe's slightly less authoritative Alfredo with their fates sealed by the impressive Solari as Germont Snr. If you've got a ticket you're in for a treat – if you haven't, take a punt on it because it's worth the admission fee.