La Traviata, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2013Posted on 3 February 2013
Four scenes with no intermission and no sets, except for multiple curtains and a chair — but it works! This is Traviata cut to its essentials, concentrating on Violetta, and to a lesser extent Germont père.
Corinne Winters was a phenomenal Violetta, and as the opera ends she stands alone on stage facing Germont, Alfredo and Annina in the auditorium. Receding into the distance in her black slip, the lights go down, and it’s all over. There is no melodrama here, just a gentle vanishing that will affect the lives of those other three people, and gives the rest of us a view of who she is and what she feels. Peter Konwitschny’s stark production will surely have its detractors — and there were a smattering of boos for the production team — but I found it gripping, and moving.
Concentrating on Violetta and Germont, brilliantly sung and portrayed by Anthony Michaels-Moore, is a clever device and their meeting in Scene 2 was a masterpiece of acting and timing. The tension and his gradual understanding of her plight were palpable. He has brought his young daughter, who rapidly feels sympathy for Violetta, and the turning point is when he slaps the young girl across the face, then turns his back, wondering what he has become. After the daughter exits, Violetta clings to him, wanting a father, and while one always feels for Violetta, the modern costumes, with Corinne Winters as such an attractive high-class prostitute, help the reality hit home.
I have reservations about portraying Alfredo as a bumbling bookish nerd because it’s not clear why she would be so attracted to him, but the director’s point is obviously that she wants to get away from the bling and goes for its exact opposite. The rowdy and uncouth behaviour of the party guests in evening dress adds emphasis to this contrast with Alfredo’s introspective world, and while the costumes for Violetta mark her out as especially glamorous, they also show her to be more demure.
Ben Johnson sang well as Alfredo, though this production upstages his character with those of his father and Violetta, making it hard for him. If you want a traditional production with all the party trimmings such as gypsies and matadors, then this co-production with Opera Graz is not for you, but if you want an intriguing insight into the main character it’s a must-see.
Fine singing from the chorus, and wonderful conducting by Michael Hofstetter who beautifully drew out the tension in Verdi’s music. And what a stunning performance by Corinne Winters as the frail one, making her European debut. Don’t miss seeing her.
Performances continue until March 3 — for details click here.