A review by Julia Gasper
Oxford is blessed to have regular visits from the Ellen Kent Opera company, and its latest productions are as good, and as exciting, as any previous season. There should not be one empty seat in the New Theatre for any of the three classic operas in this visit. Last night’s performance of La Traviata (The Girl Gone Astray) was an absolute treat, a delight throughout.
In the title role, the Ukrainian soprano Alyona Kistenyova gave a truly masterful performance, presenting Violetta’s complex feelings and her dilemmas with insight and sympathy. As a hostess in Act I she was queenly and gracious. Her gorgeous, agile voice sparkled through the frivolous “Sempre Libera” aria and grew wonderfully ethereal in the final act, when Violetta, still young, is dying of tuberculosis. This soprano really knows how to act and the intimate duets between her and Alfredo were perfection. As Alfredo, the outstanding Ukrainian tenor Ruslan Zinevych (who still looks young though he has been singing lead roles for twenty years) gave a warm and ardent performance. His bel canto in the aria “Un di felice”, where he sings that love is the heartbeat of the universe, mysterious, exalted, both pain and rapture, was grand and fully comparable to the performance of Roberto Alagna or any of the great tenors. By happy coincidence, his meddling father, sung by the veteran Vladimir Dragos, looks not unlike him. The story, which we owe to Aléxandre Dumas, was as gripping as ever.
From a visual point of view this production is a sumptuous feast. Have no fear of ultra-modern sets consisting of a few boxes and a black wall: the sets and costumes are lavish, opulent and elegant, evoking a Parisian world of ostentatious wealth, where the most beautiful courtesans and their clients led a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, if that is the right phrase. The mural showing the abduction of Persephone is an inspired choice, while the chandeliers and white voile dresses are exquisite. Alfredo’s country retreat is perhaps a little too grand, like a Renaissance villa with its loggia and statues, nice if you can get it. The party held by Violetta’s courtesan friend Flora, in Paris, where Alfred insults Violetta, is sophisticated and a little too gaudy, unmistakably spelling out “sex and the city”. The final scene in Violetta’s bedroom is sparse and almost monochrome, with a silver crucifix appearing at her bedside.
The soprano in most of the publicity pictures is not Alyona Kistenyova but she is featured in this short video:-
All the other critics I chatted to agreed that this was a splendid performance. There should not be an empty seat in the auditorium for productions of this calibre, and in fact it should be booked up months in advance, with queues all the way down George Street. The season continues this evening with Madame Butterfly. Don’t miss it!
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