When director Francesca Zambello and designers Brian Thomson and Tess Schofield conceived their 1950’s vision of La Traviata for the inaugural Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour in 2012, they created a benchmark for a succession of open-air opera productions that have pushed boundaries for the presentation of outdoor opera. As a result the annual Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour productions have become International destination events.
Director, Constantine Costi, has brilliantly reworked this production for the 2021 season, taking advantage of lessons learned from subsequent productions to up the ante on the visual and emotional aspects of what was always a spectacular production.
Brian Thomson’s remarkable sloping silver-mirror stage setting, dominated by the huge crystal chandelier that will later allow Violetta to soar high above the audience during her triumphant Sempre Libera, now sports a silhouette of the 1950’s Paris skyline which changes colour to match the mood of each scene.
Spectacularly exuberant, strikingly musical choreography, devised by Shannon Burns for her twenty dancers, creates immediate impact as the white tuxedos and bouffant skirts of Tess Schofield’s elegant La Dolce Vita inspired costumes swirl in giddy abandon as Violetta (Stacey Alleaume) quietly surveys the party already in progress during Verdi’s sumptuous overture.
Later when Alfredo (Rame Lahaj) confronts Violetta in the casino, the decadence of the life to which she has returned is emphasised with a spectacular floorshow for which the dancers are costumed in lurid matador outfits while the rest of the guests wear fancy dress and waiters spray champagne into the audience.
Costi’s direction is just as successful with the more intimate scenes where his use of an oversized silver couch to focus attention for his staging of Georgio Germont’s (Michael Honeyman) confrontation with Violetta, and his staging around the black satin draped bed for Violetta’s death scene is masterly, although his failure to provide a more inventive solution for the lack of a front curtain for the very final moments of the opera was a disappointment. Simply having Violetta get out of her deathbed and walk off stage in full view at the end of the opera was clumsy and broke the carefully crafted spell.
As the glamorous courtesan, Violetta Valery, Stacey Alleaume gives the performance of her career. Every inch the glamorous courtesan, Alleaume occupies the vast stage with impressive authority. Her singing is confident, secure and thrilling throughout, as is her acting, particularly during her confrontation with Germont, and in her final deathbed scene with Alfredo.
Dark and handsome, Rame Lahaj brings a fine voice and considerable presence to the role of the besotted Alfredo Germont. Both vocally and physically he and Alleaume are well matched, and offer captivating portrayals of the chemistry and tensions between the two lovers.
Michael Honeyman adds another fine portrayal to his already impressive repertoire with his rather reserved interpretation of Alfredo’s dignified father Georgio Germont. Alexander Sefton is suitably menacing as Violetta’s brooding former lover, Baron Douphol.
Celeste Haworth as the flamboyant dominatrix Flora Bervoix, Andrew Moran as her partner-in-crime Marquis D’Obigny, and John Longmuir as Alfredo’s friend Gastone, all make the most of their opportunities, while Danita Weatherstone as Violetta’s faithful servant Annina, and Gennadi Dubinsky as Doctor Grenvil, both provide strong, well sung performances in minor roles.
Particularly impressive with this production is the success of John Rayment’s superb lighting design in focussing the audience attention and creating memorable visual moments, while the superb clarity of Des O’Neill’s stunning sound design captures with superb clarity the full beauty of each singer’s voice, even making it possible to savour the instrumental nuances achieved by the musicians of Brian Castles-Onion’s superb orchestra in interpreting Verdi’s glorious score.
Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: La Traviata
Fleet Steps, Mrs Macquaries Point, Sydney
Performance: Friday 26 March 2021 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 25 April 2021
Information and Bookings: www.opera.org.au
Image: Stacey Alleaume as Violetta Valéry in Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour’s 2021 production of La Traviata at Mrs Macquaries Point- photo by Prudence Upton
Review: Bill Stephens OAM