La Traviata, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, March 2018

Mirrors and bright lights in the party scenes contrast with the tranquillity of a country garden in early Act II and the bleak feeling of a cemetery where Violetta digs her own grave in Act III. With designs ranging from fin de siècle Paris to the glitter of modern Las Vegas, Daniel Kramer in his first production as artistic director (his Tristan and Isolde predated that appointment) has deliberately disconnected the story from its customary milieu, adding to the disorientation between Violetta’s demi-monde and high society.

Violetta and Alfredo’s father, all images ENO/ Catherine Ashmore

At Violetta’s country house in Act II, rural domesticity is emphasised by Alfredo as he plants a flowering bush, but when his father arrives to temper his emotions after Violetta’s departure, he spits in his eye and rips out the bush. Violetta uses a knife to threaten suicide when Germont père requests the termination of the relationship, so we are left in no doubt about the raw emotions at work here. Excessive display infuses the following party scene where only the entrance of Germont saves us from witnessing a full-scale orgy between dominatrix gypsies and lascivious matadors.

Violetta and Alfredo in Act III

In Act III an array of mattresses on the floor contrasts with the floating bed of the country house, and Violetta is now excavating a grave-pit from which she reaches out in a last farewell to life during her final moments. Annina, Dr. Grenvil and Germont stand in perfect formation to one side, with Alfredo by the grave, a setting of calm simplicity to end the colourful vibrancy on the surface of this tragedy.

Under the baton of up and coming conductor Leo McFall, the wonderfully restrained emotion and occasional slow tempi of the orchestra contrasted with the glam and glitter exhibited by much of the staging. Irish soprano Claudia Boyle as Violetta and South African tenor Lukhanyo Moyake making his UK debut as Alfredo, sang well after a nervous start that made one fear for their ability to fill the auditorium, and though chemistry was missing in Act I, things pulled together later and the final moments came over well.

Final moments

No apparent nerves among the rest of the cast, with Alan Opie an outstandingly natural Germont, Heather Shipp and Aled Hall outrageously theatrical as Flora and Gaston, Henry Waddington an imposing Dr. Grenvil and Martha Jones suitably demure as Violetta’s maid Annina. Destined to strengthen in Act I as the performers gain confidence in later performances, but no such problems with the party scenes that only need to avoid too little restraint. A worthy production debut from Daniel Kramer’s team now that he has his feet under the table.

Performances continue on various dates until April 13 — for details click here.

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