From the rambunctious drinking songs to the pathos of its tragic arias, the staging, costumes and pure flair of the performers in Verdi’s classic La traviata are a treat for the eyes and ears. This is a stunning, vibrant and gloriously staged performance that had Edinburgh’s opening night audience at the Festival Theatre in rapture throughout, and earned sustained applause at its conclusion.
The set was dressed beautifully as a backdrop to the action, and even the tricky wee transition in Act 2’s scene change was swift and effective. Both the gypsy dancers and the spectacular ballet of the Matador and Bull were gorgeously choreographed, as was the movement and reactions of the chorus, moving through the stage space naturally and convincingly. The set pieces that framed the key duets looked and sounded astounding, and the unseen and distantly heard offstage ‘Banda’ marvellously evoked the atmosphere of being just beyond a room where a riproaring soiree is bouncing into the wee small hours.
As to the vocal performances, it has to be said that Stephen Gadd’s Giorgio deservedly got the loudest acclamation at the curtain call – his baritone voice, especially in the duets with Violetta, was strong yet fluent and subtle, and truly filled the auditorium. This is not to belittle the others – this was simply the standout performance in a strong and confident group of highly talented singers. Gulnara Shafigullina as Violetta shone in her solos and moved around the stage fluidly in her duets with Alfredo, played strongly by Peter Gijsbertsen. Supporting voices of Laura Zigmantaite as Flora, James Platt’s Doctor Grenvil and Simon Thorpe’s Baron Douphol were also notable highlights. This was beautiful to listen to.
If there were a small criticism, it might be that Verdi’s classic, being heavily weighted in the brass and woodwind section, occasionally outperforms the voices on stage. The opera is scored for four horns, two trumpets and three trombones, and the occasional brassy overload was I think more due to the acoustic shortcomings of sitting in the Dress Circle in the Festival Theatre. This is not the Roman Théâtre Antique d’Orange, or El Liceu of Barcelona, and the sound from the orchestra rather bounces out from the pit, rather than filling the auditorium uniformly. But this was a very minor issue – there was so much to enjoy.
The programme for the performance is worth obtaining, not least as it contains a very coherent and well structured synopsis, along with interesting background material on Verdi and a great piece entitled ‘History of Drink in Opera‘. Supertitles above the stage are provided to help those who, like me, don’t speak Italian, follow the story. Occasionally this is a slight cognitive overload – it was always a shame to drag your eyes away even momentarily from a superbly lit visual feast on stage. The story is perhaps one of the best known in Opera, with La traviata consistently being one of the most performed works in the world, but pre-knoweldge of the story is not a requirement for full enjoyment of this performance. My companion on the evening did not know the story of La Traviata, but thanks to the supertitles, had no questions during either of the two intervals.
With a large orchestra (two for this production), numerous performers and the chorus, an evening at the Opera is never inexpensive, but tickets for Edinburgh range from £19.50- £84.50. Bearing in mind the news I heard today that tickets for SPL football matches now range from £19.00 to £49.00, I think that we can be grateful to the many corporate and individual sponsors and supporters of Scottish Opera that prices are so reasonable. To put this into perspective, if you want to enjoy Semiramide at the Royal Opera House in London this weekend, your choice of seats goes from a minimum of £91.00 to an eye-watering £245.00. And their interval ice cream is not half as good.
Should I see this production?
If you are in any doubt about coming to see this performance, let me put any doubt in your mind to rest. Come. Come along with your partner, your best friends, dress up a little if you want, have a few slurps during the intervals and you will have a really fantastic evening. As I write this review, I’m listening to La traviata once again on Spotify, and it simply reminds me of how much more wonderful Opera is to experience in the flesh. From the tense hush that descends when the lights first go down, to the lavish spectacle of the costumes and set, it’s electrifying to have the sound of human voices and a live orchestra filling your ears with some of the most beautiful and iconic music ever created. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Come and see this.
Festival Theatre Edinburgh
15, 21, 23, 25 Nov 2017 7.15pm | Matinee 19 Nov 3pm |
Theatre Royal, Glasgow
28, 30 Nov ; 2 Dec 7:15pm
- Scottish Opera are commendably offering inexpensive introductions to their work with Opera Unwrapped at just £5 – the next is tonight in Edinburgh on Thursday 16th November at 6pm, and also have pre-show talks – for Edinburgh it’s on Saturday 25th November at 6pm. A special note if you’re going to this performance in Glasgow – the 28th of November is the 150th anniversary of the Theatre Royal – so it should be a fantastic occasion.