One of the most performed operas in the canon, Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata has some resonance to Verdi’s own relationship with singer Giuseppina Strepponi who became his lifelong partner following the death of his wife and two children. The fact that they never married became a cause for friction between Verdi and the largely Catholic society in which they existed.
Verdi’s opera depicts the passionate relationship between a young nobleman, Alfredo Germont and a famous courtesan, Violetta Valery. When their relationship threatens to become a scandal which will compromise the reputation of Alfredo’s father, Giorgio, as well as ruin the chances of his sister to marry advantageously, Giorgio approaches Violetta to end the relationship.
Unbeknown to both father and son, Violetta is suffering from an incurable illness. As well she has sold all her belongings to support her relationship with Alfredo. Therefore, aware that she is dying Violetta reluctantly agrees.
However, Alfredo reacts badly and humiliates Violetta publicly. Shocked at his son’s behaviour Giorgio eventually acquaints him with Violetta’s predicament, but too late, and the lovers are united at Violetta’s deathbed.
Sarah Giles’ production for Opera Queensland explores the decadent society of the courtesans without placing the production in a specific period. Charles Davis has taken advantage of this to provide lavish costumes which hint at the fashions of Charles James, Dior, Vivienne Westwood and Valentino.
His setting for the opening scene depicts three rooms in Violetta’s house. This allows the audience to view action in each of the rooms at the same time, so that during the overture the audience is privy to a post-coital scene in Violetta’s bedroom in which Violetta awakens with her lover still asleep beside her, while her guests are already assembling in the outer rooms.
Before departing the lover presents her with the first of several stunning gowns she wears during the opera. Then in full view of the audience, a maid assists Violetta into the gown before she enters the adjoining ballroom to greet her arriving guests.
It is the first of several captivating stagings devised by Sara Giles which allow the audience insight into the practicalities of Violetta’s life. Later leading to the famous Sempre Libera which begins with Violetta lying on her bed after all the guests have departed, her maid helps her out of the gown, frees her from the restricting undergarments to move into the now-empty ballroom, with her mood and actions perfectly reflecting the “always free” sentiments of the aria.
Lorina Gore is quite marvellous as Violetta. Always an artistic singer and an instinctive actress of considerable range, she embraces the complexities of Giles’ sometimes risky staging with apparent relish. She wears her voluminous gowns with the flair and panache of a catwalk model and is heartbreaking in the scenes in which she agrees to Giorgio’s demands, and while enduring Alfredo’s humiliations.
Making his Opera Queensland role debut as Alfredo, Australian-Chinese tenor Kang Wang cements his growing reputation as an outstanding young tenor on the rise. Perfectly cast, his Alfredo is handsome, impetuous, and completely believable as the reason why the more experienced Violetta would sacrifice all for him.
Completing the trio of outstanding principals, Jose Carbo as Giorgio Germont brings his fine voice and dignified presence to a role which demands exactly these qualities to provide the necessary gravitas to the situation.
Impressive also in smaller roles, Hayley Sugars as Flora Bervoix, Sebastian Maclaine as Gastone de Letorieres, Shaun Brown as Baron Douphol and Jason Barry-Smith as Marquis d’Obigny, all offered fine supporting performances, as did Conal Coad as Doctor Grenvil and Susan Ellis as Annina.
They all received outstanding support from the Opera Queensland Chorus which sang with accuracy and commitment while peppering the crowd scenes with amusing vignettes, and from the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, under the masterful baton of Dane Lam who insured a superb rendition of Verdi’s sublime score from the entire ensemble.
For this reviewer the only misstep on an otherwise memorable production was the directorial decision to replace Violetta with another actor in the closing moments of the opera to allow Violetta (or her soul?) to arise from her deathbed and walk upstage into the dawn, thereby robbing the ending of its pathos by taking the focus away from the grieving group.
Lyric Theatre – QPAC, Cultural Precinct, South Brisbane
Performance: Thursday 14 July 2022
Season continues to 23 July 2022
For more information, visit: www.oq.com.au for details.
Image: Lorina Gore and Kang Wang in Opera Queensland’s production of La Traviata – photo by David Kelly
Review: Bill Stephens OAM