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2011-11, ROH London, La traviata

La Traviata

2011 Traviata ROH 09

Composer : Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto : Piave after Dumas fils
Venue and Dates :

Royal Opera House, London
25 (mat) and 28 November
2, 6, 9, 12, 17 and 20 December

Conductor : Patrick Lange
Production Director :  Richard Eyre
Revival Director : Rodula Gaitanou
Lighting : Jean Kalman
Chorus Master : Renato Balsadonna
Performers:

Violetta Valéry :  Ailyn Pérez
Alfredo Germont : Piotr Beczala
Giorgio Germont : Simon Keenlyside
Flora Bervoix : Hanna Hipp
Gaston : Ji Hyun Kim
Baron Douphol : Eddiw Wade
Marquis d’Obigny : Daniel Grice
Doktor Grenvil : Christophoros Stamboglis
Annina: Gaynor Keeble
Giuseppe: Neil Gillespie
Messanger:  John Bernays
Servant: Jonathan Coad

This production will be broadcast at 6pm on 31 December 2011 on BBC Radio 3.


Soundbites

George Hall, The Stage, 29 November 2011

The second of three casts takes to the stage in a work that the Royal Opera is performing more than 20 times in the current season, partly to replace a lost new production and partly to generate revenue with a box office favourite.

Despite the fact that Richard Eyre’s traditional 1993 staging still feels false and vacuous, the result is better than some recent outings. Revival director Rodula Gaitanou ensures that everything happens neatly and clearly, and conductor Patrick Lange brings real distinction to the difficult task of minting the familiar score anew.

There are also exceptionally good accounts of two of the three central roles. Piotr Beczala sings a radiant, musically scrupulous Alfredo; not many of today’s artists could come near his level of stylish lyric excellence.

Equally fine is Simon Keenlyside’s thought-through Germont, the character’s hidebound nature revealed in the baritone’s careful attention to every detail of text, line and phrasing. Physically, too, he is right inside the role.

Ailyn Perez’s Violetta is less even. Too often she tries to make Verdi’s notes more dramatic by adding special effects. It’s a counterproductive strategy and sometimes registers as merely mannered; Addio del passato is pulled around far too much. Despite that, her light-lyric soprano and overall dramatic stance are appealing, though they’re not quite on the level attained by her colleagues.

Good work in the smaller roles, especially from Gaynor Keeble’s carefully observed Annina and Ji Hyun Kim’s lively Gastone. But the company needs to think about replacing this chocolate-box Traviata with something more searching.

Graham Rogers, Classicalsource, 30 November 2011

This extended revival of Richard Eyre’s splendid production of La traviata returns with a new cast and conductor for another stint. Ailyn Pérez, who sang Violetta on the Royal Opera’s 2010 Japan tour, now plays the role in the House. Her bright, well-rounded tone instantly impresses, ringing out clearly across the large space. Youthful and radiant, she looks the part too: a touch too healthy for a consumptive, perhaps, but delightfully coquettish in Act One. Her broad-brush coloratura left something to be desired, especially in the ‘Brindisi’, but her ability to sing softly without losing tone comes into its own in the poignant tenderness of the second and third Acts.

Her partner is Piotr Beczala, who has been taking principal roles at Royal Opera for several years; this is his first Alfredo. Vocally there were a couple of minor shaky moments, but on the whole Beczala boasts a strong, fluent voice and good stage presence. His contrasting arias at the beginning of Act Two were delivered with confidence, and his hot-headed passion in Flora’s salon suitably intense. Pérez and Beczala are well-matched and a dramatically plausible couple, and bring a genuine compassion to their intimate scenes.

Simon Keenlyside, playing Germont for the first time in London after touring Japan, does not possess the deep basso profundo that has marked out many of the great interpreters of the role, but his mellifluous tone is notable in its own way and ensures an affecting ‘Di Provenza il mar. Grey-haired and leaning on his cane, Keenlyside cuts a sternly unbending father-figure.

Making his Covent Garden debut, Patrick Lange’s conducting is well-paced and lively. He does not quite mine the score of its full emotional potential, but he has a sure, sensitive touch. The ROH strings were wonderfully sumptuous, particularly in the Preludes to Acts One and Three.

Intermezzo, 30 November 2011

I’m guessing Simon Keenlyside did his own grey hairsprayon Monday night and forgot to check the back. I mean, he can’t have been going for the caramelised badger look deliberately. Can he?

It was part of his stab at playing Germont much older than I can recall any other singer attempting in this production – even last month’s Leo Nucci. Accessorised with a walking stick that he sometimes forgot he needed and a stoop that failed to mask his natural gymnast’s posture, he recalled my own brother’s portrayal of Polonius. In the school play, aged 16.

With only a few years between Keenlyside and Piotr Beczala, the motive may have been a sound one, but it was hard to believe Beczala’s mature and self-confident Alfredo would bend to the will of quite such a feeble dodderer.

Yet this is clearly revival director Rodula Gaitanou’s intent. She transposes the production’s time-honoured second act shove, so that it’s Alfredo who knocks his father to the floor, rather than the other way round as usual (I think I can use that word now it’s on its 20th-ish run).  No change is without consequences though, and the risk here is that Alfredo is set up as a violent bully with a hair-trigger temper, and his later rejection of Violetta is merely an off-the-cuff physical outburst.

The ageing of Germont is not without vocal implications either. Keenlyside’s voice is barely touched by his years, and he’s never had those basso depths that convey age without effort. I’m sure it’ll come across just fine on the radio, but from a baritone who’s mastered looking cool in puffy pants and tights (Don Carlo) and falling in love dressed as a marshmallow (Pelléas) it lacks an edge of conviction on stage.

Not only is the Royal Opera House’s answer to The Mousetrap on the second of its four casts this season, it also has a fresh conductor – Patrick Lange, making his house debut.

Lange carved out some brilliant detailing. The Overture’s ‘barrel organ’ has never come across so clearly – the thoroughness of his preparation was obvious within mere bars. But he also played dangerously with some extreme and unconventional tempos. Dramatically, this pointed up shifts in mood with startling clarity and sat well with Ailyn Pérez’s conception of Violetta as a woman in constant struggle between emotional inclination and moral duty.

But the singers often seemed wary and confused by the unfamiliar pacing. Whether inadequate communication or insufficient rehearsal should be blamed, it’s hard to say.  But the results were painfully obvious – a few minor partings of the way, complete chaos on Alfredo’s third act entrance, and a general feeling of tension and unease that seemed to permeate the entire evening.

This was most obvious in Pérez’s first act, marked by erratic tuning, pinched tone and wavering coloratura. Fortunately a plusher tone eventually won through. Elegantly floated pianissimos combined with her fragile beauty to produce a Violetta of compelling vulnerability – she seems truly inside the role in a way even the greatest singers sometimes aren’t. I hope I’m not being overgenerous in assuming her shortness of breath was just a theatrical effect.

Beczala, while a practiced Alfredo, wasn’t the ideal pairing. He looked (and acted) old enough to be her pervy uncle. But the audience responded enthusiastically to his rugged, well-crafted singing, overlooking his stylistically inappropriate verismo sobs. One of this excellent production’s strengths is that it can digest almost any singer’s personal interpretation, but I do think that sometimes encourages the ROH to just chuck any big name in the hat, knowing they’ll escape without embarrassment or discomfort.

No complaints about the supporting cast though, with a particularly strong Annina from Gaynor Keeble, a vibrant Flora from Hanna Hipp and Daniel Grice’s suave Marquis D’Obigny the pick of the bunch.

Fiona Maddocks, The Observer, 4 December 2011

Orphée and La traviata (1853) are only five years apart in composition. Verdi’s tragedy, in contrast to Offenbach’s comedy, is one of the few operas that tends to escape updating: its contemporaneity lies in its emotional truths, but the story, of a consumptive courtesan and the social damage her status does to those associated with her, sits best in the time of its writing. Or perhaps that view has become custom thanks to the Royal Opera House’s production by Richard Eyre, lavishly designed by Bob Crowley, created in 1994 and still, with the right cast and even after 16 revivals, fresh. The latest cast change, heralding a run of performances over the Christmas period, is first-rate, with an ideal Violetta in Ailyn Pérez.

 

The bewitching young American soprano puts her heart into every twist of the drama, from the impetuousness of her love for Alfredo – the world-class Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, whose voice never fails – to the febrile emergency of her death. Despite momentary flaws in the coloratura last Monday, her performance was glorious, the quiet passages magical. With Simon Keenlyside as a grizzly, limping Germont and attentive orchestral and chorus work, this was a Traviata to treasure. German conductor Patrick Lange took a steady pace for his ROH debut which had weight and dignity but never dragged.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kew December 2, 2011 at 11:43 am

Hello,

Just to let you know that Ailyn Pérezand and Piotr Beczala joined S. Rafferty in InTune on this Tuesday, and talked about the current run of La Traviata. Describing her experience of ROH tour to Japan, she mentioned Simon’s attitude towards her on the stage, saying “he is always with you”. Obviously he helped her to go through the performance when she stepped in from the 2nd Act of Traviata. Beczala, on the other hand, touched upon father and son relationship. Brief, but it was an interesting discussion.

Cheers
Kew

Kyoko November 29, 2011 at 12:29 am

Let me send you tonight’s curtain call video for your interest.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23mHhTiHONo

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