Victorian Opera’s much-anticipated La traviata is presented in association with Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini (the Pergolesi Spontini Foundataion) who run an opera house in Jesi, Italy, that was built in the late 1700s. You can imagine how much the original 1992 production oozed with connection to place and time and culture, but I’m not sure why Victorian Opera transported it to Australia.
La traviata is the opera non-opera fans know. It’s the story of courtesan Violetta who gives up the life of sexy whoring and lavish parties for lover Alfredo and a quiet life the country. Alfie’s dad isn’t impressed, especially as his daughter is trying to be respectable and having a brother associated an un-unmarried prossie is a problem. But Violetta is all heart and gives up her love and has plot-convenienet consumption.
With the original director, Henning Brockhaus, and the famous – extraordinarily beautiful angled mirror with painted floor clothes – design by the late Czech designer Josef Svoboda, it’s the Italian production with an Australian cast.
And the cast are stunning.
Australian Soprano Jessica Pratt is best known in Europe and her Australian debut as Violetta is astonishing. This is singing that stops you dead and dares you not to listen. With clarity like an untouched mountain spring, she finds the emotion in the music and lets it float into our hearts.
Italian tenor Alessandro Scotto di Luzio captures the appeal of Alfredo and he and Pratt sound like they were meant to sing together. But they rely on the music to show their love and haven’t been directed to show their unstoppable passion, leaving them looking awkward rather than lovers who are prepared to give up everything to be together.
Much better in this respect is Jose Carbo as Alfredo’s father, who show the unbearable loss in Act III. And Kirilie Blythman, as servant Annina, and Dimity Shepherd, as courtesan Flora, bring more than wonderful voices to the stage.
The sound of this opera is what makes it so worth seeing. Richard Mills’s conducting and musical direction brings out the best in all the voices and in the chorus, and he ensures that the full orchestra supports and never overwhelms the singers. It’s a production you want a recording of.
What’s disappointing is that this production never feels or looks like it was made for this cast. There are unflattering costumes made to fit rather than designed for the performers, and ridiculous false beards; the chorus sound magnificent but look uncomfortable and seem unsure of their role on the stage, as do the dancers who swirl around them with little connection to the story; and even when the design reveals visual treats like its stunning lawn of flowers, the connection between design and production gets lost.
As a whole, I saw nothing in this Traviata that I haven’t seen before and wonder what we’d have got if an Australian director had been given the freedom to create a Traviata that resonates in the here and now.
But go to hear Jessica Pratt.