Sunday 5 June 2011

Go Traviata! - Go Opera

Go Traviata! takes 'verismo' to a new level.  Performed in an abandoned warehouse somewhere in East London, this production of Verdi's La Traviata puts the audience in full focus.

The stark white walls of the warehouse contrast sharply with the romantic plot and Verdi's sumptuous score.  Film images were then projected onto the walls, though I confess their meaning totally eluded me.  The audience enter and become part of Violetta's party as the ensemble perform all around.  The idea is to create an immersive and involving performance space; the traditional theatre stage with its fourth wall totally abandoned.  Undoubtedly, this was a unique and fun experience to be part of.

But equally, the staging often had the adverse effect, distancing the audience as they were forced to peer around each other in order to see the 'stage' action - an unnecessary barrier.  We feel part of the production, yet totally and awkwardly in the way.  It raises questions of audience etiquette, requiring us to lose all inhibitions and self-consciousness as we too are on show.  Do you stand rooted to the spot as convention dictates?  Or do you follow the cast and risk ruining another's view?  It's certainly an interesting experiment as I found myself watching audience reactions as much as the show itself.  At times I couldn't see anything at all (particularly the balcony section of Act 2), but luckily the music was enough to carry my attention.

And for such a young company, the singing was excellent.  This type of staging brings challenges for the cast too - particularly in terms of balance, timing and hearing the piano accompaniment, let alone the confidence to perform face-to-face with the audience.  But the cast coped well, each member singing to a high standard, especially with the many unaccompanied passages.  Praise must be given to Joanna Weeks as Violetta: an extraordinary young talent.  Her arresting and emotive vocal performance brought many audience members to tears. 

One final barrier remained though that prevented the company's vision of creating universally accessible opera: language.  It's certainly commendable to perform the opera in its native Italian, but many audience members were fervently glued to the librettos handed out, rather than becoming totally immersed in the action.  Opera lovers will appreciate the creativity of the young production team, whilst newcomers will likely (and ironically) be lost.

As a piece of storytelling, the production was flawed with language barriers and staging decisions detracting from the plot.  But as an overall experience, the production was a success.  Largely, this is because nothing compares to the awesome sound of opera singers breaking out into song mere inches away from you in full panoramic view.