Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA by Welsh National Opera at New Theatre, Oxford

A review by Julia Gasper

La Traviata is an old favourite but this revival of a classic production by WNO brings it up as fresh as if you had never heard it before. It really is nigh-on-faultless, with superb singing underpinned by exquisite orchestral sounds, atmospheric stage and costume design, sensitive acting and the electrifying conducting of James Southall.

Linda Richardson as Violetta gives us the full glory of this demanding soprano role that requires her to be on stage almost throughout, first proclaiming that she is a frivolous woman of the world, then falling deeply in love with the young and sincere Alfredo. Her phrases were exquisitely honed and her voice ranged from brilliance to vulnerability in a versatile way.

As Alfredo, the young Chinese tenor Kang Wang gave a fine performance, even when in the height of his bitterness and disillusion with Violetta, believing she has abandoned him without cause, he publicly insults her, a moment of almost Othello-like ferocity. The story of La Traviata belongs with Othello, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Anna Karenina, sad confessions of how men through the ages have wronged and misunderstood women. The title, La Traviata, means “the woman led astray” and it has more than one significance. It can of course mean a courtesan, or it could also refer to how Violetta is persuaded by Alfredo’s father to leave him for all the wrong reasons, notions of virtue and duty that are false and unfair. Too late he realizes he should have welcomed Violetta as a daughter. It is a great story, and Kang Wang has a great voice and considerable acting skills to match.

Roland Wood as Alfredo’s father, Germont, has such a powerful voice that he almost stole the show at some points, though he is undoubtedly the villain. Visually the production skilfully created the atmosphere of Paris in the Second Empire, contrasting relatively sombre scenes such as the first act reception at Baron Douphol’s, with the wildly extravagant hedonism of the party given by Violetta’s friend Flora in Act Two. The colour, the vivacity, and the fun of the Spanish dances so stylishly performed, contrast well with the sombreness of other scenes.

Altogether this revival is memorable and not to be missed. If there are still any seats left for the Friday night performance in Oxford I hope they are sold in the next 24 hours.

 

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