Sunday 22 February 2015

La Traviata @ The Coliseum

ENO La Traviata The Coliseum

Usually, we attend the theatre to see what goes on behind the curtain. Yet in this revival of Peter Konwitschny's production of La Traviata, the action takes place in front of a series of red curtains, the significance of which is unclear. Despite a sharp colour scheme, there is little visual stimulation - at the start especially (before the curtains open to reveal a larger, empty space) it feels more like a semi-staged performance.

This does throw the performances into sharp relief, which are something of a mixed bag. Soprano Elizabeth Zharoff makes her UK debut as Violetta, though at first she's a little shrill and struggles with the angular coloratura of Act I. Her lumberjack costume in Act II is also wildly misjudged. Later, though, she exudes passion and sings with sumptuous control, becoming a tragic heroine who is easy to empathise with. Ben Johnson returns as Alfredo and offers a beautiful lyrical tenor, though the relationship between the two singers lacks chemistry. This is in part due to a stilted libretto translation and equally direction that often leaves the characters separated, with Johnson frequently singing from the audience. It is merely distracting.

Though there is some lovely singing from the secondary characters, there are too few ensemble opportunities for them to really excel. That is, except Anthony Michaels-Moore as Alfredo's father Giorgio who gives a solid powerhouse of a performance.

Then there's the chorus, who's laughable overacting negates any emotional resonance from the lead characters. There are simply too many of them: they overcrowd the limited stage space and conductor Roland Böer struggles to keep them singing together in time. The Brindisi at the start of the opera is one of its most famous tunes, but here it's incredibly wooden.

Thankfully it's not the only tune in what is Verdi's most popular opera and Böer conducts the glorious orchestra with aplomb. Cutting out the intervals and stripping the opera to the bare minimum (with a straight runtime of 1 hour 50) ensures this is a swift and concise production - not to mention requiring substantial vocal stamina from the singers - but visually it all feels a bit lacking. The music is wonderful but the drama is missing some emotional truth to really set off the tragic narrative.


Watch: La Traviata runs at the Coliseum until 13th March.