[Images courtesy of Opera North]
Not content with annually being declared the world’s most performed opera, over the past season, alone, keen Verdinians could have seen Traviatas at Glyndebourne, the Coliseum, Royal Opera, and here in Leeds. Finding fresh perspectives on the opera, can therefore prove a challenge – director Alessandro Talevi for Opera North provides a safe pair of hands, well managing the opera’s key relationships, and offering flashes of inspired originality.
We open on a striking image of the moon, slowly morphing into a depiction of the tuberculosis that is infecting our leading lady. It is a bold and evocative opening, and Talevi is not one to shy away from boldness – some moments proving greatly effective (the masked appearance of the male chorus in Act 3), and some irritatingly cheap (the sexually rampaging chorus). It is a little frustrating that more time isn’t taken over to developing some of the more coherent concepts, particularly the aforementioned voyeuristic male chorus, who expose both the characters’ and audience’s fascination with this tale of death and prostitution; however Talevi has clearly worked hard with his actors, with the production full of many colourful and engaging performances. Madeleine Boyd’s set creates a useful delineation between private and public spheres, and the multi-purpose bed (the setting metaphorically and physically of the play’s drama) serves the action well.
Any La Traviata lives and dies through its central trio.
Anna Jeruc-Kopec (new to the production and to the Company) delivers a most sympathetic Violetta. Charmingly hospitable in the opening scene, beautifully poised in her final moments, she has little of the streetwise steel that many actresses bring to the part, instead choosing to play a highly vulnerable Violetta. It is therefore most believable that she would fall for Ji-Min Park’s Alfredo; his puppyish love for Violetta providing her with some much needed comfort in her final months. Park’s evident enthusiasm brings an infectious joy to his performance, and he stirs up (rather startlingly) the required menace for his confrontation with Violetta in Act 2. I cannot call into question Stephen Gadd’s sonorous performance as Giorgio Germont, however I wonder whether we couldn’t have seen a little more of his emotional wrangling. The three do form an effective triumvirate (especially in the opera’s final moments) and vocally this is a passionate and sympathetic performance of the story.
In a colourful and debauched world of Barons and courtesans, the Opera North Chorus fully throw their reliable gay abandon into Talevi’s vision – cavorting and play acting (in a rather delightful pastiche of Bizet’s Carmen) to full effect. Of those chorus members stepping out to perform some of the opera’s supporting roles, Dean Robinson’s tremendous depth of tone adds great humanity to Doctor Grenvil, and Victoria Sharp’s Flora is an outrageous delight (particularly in the aforementioned Carmen parody, where she assumes the title role). Conductor von Dohnanyi offers a well-paced, if non-revelatory reading of Verdi’s score.
With two talented and sympathetic leads (which this run most certainly has) Talevi’s Traviata is one that will no doubt serve Opera North well for many years. This stylish, timeless, and lively production may not be the Company’s finest offering of the season, however it more than helps to make up a terrific year so far for opera in Leeds.
La Traviata is showing at Leeds Grand Theatre until the 26th February 2015.
For more information visit Opera North’s website
David Ward is a Development Manager at Northern Ballet, and a board member of Script Yorkshire. Since graduating from university in 2010, David has worked across the arts in both a creative and administrative capacity, settling in Leeds in 2012. A keen supporter of the city’s application to be the European Capital of Culture in 2023, David is constantly amazed by the range, creativity, and innovation of arts companies within the city. He is proud to be able to represent two organisations (of very different sizes and aims) who exemplify the passion for culture in Leeds.