It’s been 10 years since Brisbane has seen a professional La traviata and it’s been worth the wait. Elvira Fatykhova is a stunning Violetta in this sumptuous production of one of the world’s great operas. The Russian soprano sings and acts with enormous depth of feeling. She entranced a rapturous first-night audience, with cries of “brava” and thundering applause celebrating her performance.
While Fatykhova is the standout, there are many elements in Opera Queensland’s production of Verdi’s masterpiece which add up to a very satisfying night of opera.
The direction and acting remind us of how much can be achieved within the constraints of a traditional setting. Julie Edwardson has effectively revived Elijah Moshinsky’s brilliant 1994 Australian Opera production. Principals, chorus and dancers bring to life their scenes with animated performances. As the fin de siècle‘s equivalent of party ravers the chorus revel with decorous enjoyment. Belynda Buck’s choreography works well on the crowded stage.
Adrian Dwyer’s Alfredo is a gauche outsider, dressed down, ill at ease and uncomfortable with champagne, while his worldly-wide older rivals ill-conceal their jealousy and malice, to the amusement of the gossipy and stunningly-attired womenfolk.
The design is magnificent. Sets and costumes (Michael Yeargan and Peter Hall) are lush and gorgeous beyond belief, evoking spontaneous applause. Nigel Levings’ lighting too is outstanding, from evening drawing room to autumn courtyard to gloomy bedroom pierced with light streaming through dusty windows.
Orchestrally, La traviata always seems an opera where the strings dominate, and the Queensland Orchestra under Peter Robinson certainly brings out the best of this section. The complexity of musical lines interweave and combine to shimmering effect from the very first moments of the prelude, and there are many moments of heart-wrenching intensity during the performance. Throughout, Robinson gives us a purposeful and measured interpretation.
Of the principals, Dwyer’s light and pleasant voice suits his character. Unlike many productions, this one emphasises Alfredo’s youth and naivety in trying to break into the corrupt and exploitative Parisian social scene with an offer of genuine love. Verdi has provided many challenges for the tenor, and Dwyer rises to the occasion, although not always firmly or with flawless intonation.
Douglas McNicol gives a rich if restrained rendition of Germont. He is particularly memorable in his confrontations with his son Alfredo and his wonderful Act 2 duet with Violetta.
The supporting principal singers add quality to the musical feast: Andrew Collis as the doctor, John Bolton Wood as the baron, David Hibbard as the marquis, Roxane Hislop as Flora, and Rosemarie Arthars as the maid, Annina. Adding to these are firm contributions from Bernard Wheaton, Stephen Beck and Sam Hartley.
Their work is superbly complemented by that of the Opera Queensland Chorus, trained by Richard Lewis.
The opera has many splendid moments, including Violetta’s Act 1 “Sempre libera” aria as she agonises over the choice offered her by Alfredo, but for me the highlight of the production is the closing scene of Act 2, where principals and chorus lament the tragic turn of events following Alfredo’s startling humiliation of Violetta. The multiplicity of vocal and orchestral lines are woven into a rich and balanced tapestry of sound.
Surtitles aid understanding of the libretto, although the the translation seems at times unnecessarily free and is often rather pedestrian.
But it is a truly splendid production, and you will go far to hear a better Violetta.