REVIEW: Scottish Opera: La traviata
* * * * *
by Margaret Chrystall
SOMBRE and sumptuous, Scottish Opera’s revival of La traviata is draped in black curtains with a beginning that is already looking back at tragic Violetta’s story after her death.
And despite the vibrant opening party atmosphere at Violetta’s and Act Two Scene One’s raucous and risque gypsy dancing at courtesan Flora’s, death is always there – even before you notice the stage’s flooring is Violetta’s giant gravestone.
Anush Hovhannisyan (pictured above) makes Violetta a willing if not over-enthusiastic party-girl in Act One.
So we can believe that when she discovers the ardent love of her secret admirer Alfredo (Peter Gijsbertsen), it shakes her belief that “friendship is all I can offer”.
And in Hovhannisyan’s lyrically sung E strano! ... e strano! (I wonder! I wonder!), Violetta muses that no man has ever made her love him, but battles her doubts to risk the thought of loving Alfredo back.
By Act Two the designer Tanya McCallin’s colour palette has lightened. Creams, whites and greys replace the black and gilt interior of Violetta’s chic Paris place as we get to look in on the couple’s fragile domestic bliss in their new home outside the city.
But with the line from Act One’s ‘brindisi’ drinking song still ringing in our ears – “Let’s enjoy ourselves for the delight of love is fleeting like a flower that blooms and dies” – Alfredo reveals the joys of their fragile love as you already fear the worst.
Gijsbertsen portrays Alfredo as every inch the besotted young lover who reveals touchingly “I can’t live when apart from her”.
But trashing everything as he demands Violetta give up Alfredo for the sake of the young man’s family honour, Alfredo’s father is played by Stephen Gadd with a muscular, almost bullying energy that contrasts starkly with Hovhannisyan creating a defeated surrender from Violetta.
And our times help emphasise that in the world of women like Violetta, “the whirlpool of pleasure” is about the only alternative when love, money and health run out. The red evening gown Violetta wears to Flora’s party – where Alfredo treats her like a prostitute not a lover by throwing money at her – literally casts her as a scarlet woman.
Throughout the night, the passion and power of Scottish Opera debutante Hovhannisyan included a voice that shape-sifted from velvety richness to steely power with confident gymnastics and high notes to die for along the way.
Against her persuasive interpretation of Violetta, it was hard not to be impatient of Alfredo’s lack of faith and betrayal – not to mention unforgiving of his father’s remorse, which Gadd made vocally impeccable all the same.
Though Sir David McVicar’s production – with new direction from Marie Lambert – restores the opera back in time to add perspective for a contemporary audience, the tragedy of Violetta’s fate still couldn’t be more painful, immediate or shocking as she flounders on the floor vulnerable and dying in a skimpy nightshirt.
La traviata has two more performances at Eden Court tonight (Thursday, November 9 and Saturday, November 11 at 7.15pm when Gulnara Shafigullina will sing Violetta. The unwrapped performance - an hour-long taster to the opera itself - is on Friday, November 10 ayt 6pm and is free but ticketed. A pre-performance talk will give more information about the opera on Saturday at 6pm in a free but ticketed event. Saturday's performance will be audio-described.