You can be sure of the quality of Ellen Kent’s operas: they are traditionally set, have very good solo singing and the gowns are to die for. Her current production of Verdi’s La Traviata is no exception.
Based on a stage adaptation of the partially autobiographical novel La Dame aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas fils, it tells the story of Violetta, a sickly courtesan, and her love triangle with Alfredo Germont, an attractive provincial bourgeois newly on the scene, and Baron Douphol, her current lover. Violetta and Alfredo get it on at a party (cue the “drinking song” often heard on Classic FM) and then spend Act Two living together. However, Alfredo’s father worries that his son is being ruined by his liaison with a fallen woman and so he persuades her to leave Alfredo and go back to the Baron. All the while her health deteriorates, into the dénouement of the final Act.
As the overture is played, there is an auction of effects behind a lace curtain and the surtitles explain the origins of the opera. This was a nice touch, which added interest to a well-directed show. There were very strong performances from Alyona Kistenyova (Violetta), Ruslan Zinevych (Alfredo) and Vladimir Dragos (Alfredo’s Dad). Zarui Vardanean, who sang Flora and Annina (Violetta’s friend and maid, respectively) also has a splendid voice; she’s a young singer with a bright future. The excellent conductor (Vasyl Vasylenko) led a terrific orchestra with care and firm direction. Verdi’s music is blissful at times. The first violins were sensitively noteworthy in more ways than one. Unfortunately, on the less positive side, the chorus members were a bit wooden and often behind the beat, and they ought not to bump into the scenery, as it spoils the illusion.
The gowns were indeed dazzling and must have cost a lot to produce (“bespoke”). Ellen sources her singers and costumes from the ex-communist bloc. Several performers had been caught up in the Ukrainian situation; some are fugitives from the Donetsk Opera, which manages to limp on despite mortar attacks by separatists.
Regardless of its origins, this was a very enjoyable version of La Traviata, especially the moving final Act.