Review — La Traviata, Royal Opera, June 2009Posted on 16 June 2009
The last time I saw this fine Richard Eyre production was in January 2008, but this time it was better, for several reasons: the preparation, the singing and the conducting. It seems Richard Eyre himself rehearsed the revival, which explains the excellent acting from the entire cast; the principal singers were Renée Fleming, Joseph Calleja and Thomas Hampson, and the conductor was Antonio Pappano. Renée Fleming gave a superbly sensitive performance as Violetta, brilliantly showing her fragility and death at the end, and Joseph Calleja sang like a god as Alfredo. I saw him perform the same role at the Lyric Opera in Chicago in October 2007, where I commented that his voice was full and romantic, perfect for the part, but on that occasion his acting was very wooden. Here he acted the part, and along with Thomas Hampson as his father, Giorgio Germont, we had a simply wonderful trio of top singers. Hampson interacted well with Violetta, cool and aloof at first, but warming to her as he began to believe her sincerity. Between father and son the interaction was powerful, and the father even threw the son to the ground at one point in the country house where he lives with Violetta. With three brilliant principals carrying things off to such thrilling effect it seems hardly necessary to mention anyone else. But Sarah Pring was very fine as Annina, the maid to Violetta, and I much liked Richard Wiegold as Doctor Grenvil. Then of course the conducting of Antonio Pappano was sensitive and full of emotional energy. This was a terrific performance of Traviata, and if Renée Fleming omitted some high notes, it was only the dress rehearsal. Finally I would just add that this is what the Royal Opera should be doing, giving the audience a production in which great singers can express themselves and provide the audience with a convincing account of an operatic masterpiece. It is sadly the case — and the recent Lulu was a striking example — that the Opera House occasionally hires a director who convinces the senior management that his unusual way of presenting an opera will somehow shed new light of matters that many members of the audience already understand very well. By a process of hyper-intellectual argument the director loses the plot, and the audience find themselves infuriated by un-theatrical nonsense. This was the perfect antidote. Thank goodness for Richard Eyre.