Stunning sets, opulent costumes, and unquestionable talent – this is how opera should be seen and is what’s delivered in Richard Eyre’s La Traviata. It’s been over twenty years since Eyre’s interpretation of this popular drama first took to the stage, but it still dazzles and entrances its audience. Daniel Dooner’s revival of this traditional piece manages to stay true to that vision while showing off some clean and effective directing, resulting in a gorgeous show that gives its talented cast a real chance to shine.
Unfortunately one member of the cast, Saimir Pirgu, was absent from the night’s performance due to a throat infection. The Australian tenor Samuel Sakker was ready to take his place as the lovesick Alfredo Germont though, and convincingly stepped into the role. Yet despite Sakker’s declarations of love as Alfredo, it was Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva who initially brought the passion to their relationship as the opera’s main character, the tragic Violetta Valéry.
Gimadieva brought an undeniable truth to Violetta as well as incredible talent to the role. While it seemed that Sakker was still easing into the role of Alfredo at the beginning, Gimadieva was already there. Cutting a striking figure in an almost luminescent white dress in the first scene, both alone and among her fellow courtiers, Violetta, her struggles and her secrets came to life in the spine-chillingly quality voice of Gimadieva. The only on-stage rival she faced for talent is Luca Salsi as Giorgio Germont.
An Act II duet between Gimadieva and Salsi, both making their Royal Opera debuts that night, was absolutely one of the highlights of the show. The two brought out incredible emotional responses from each other, and Salsi’s final notes by himself, unaccompanied by the orchestra even, prompted outbursts of “bravo!” from the audience.
With the trope of the ‘fallen woman’ and Parisian parties that hardly scandalise in this day and age, its not hard to see how La Traviata could easily disconnect from a modern audience. However, the true human struggles and emotions articulated by the cast and the directing served to bridge that gap and speak to the audience. The luscious sets, from a stunning ballroom to even the relatively stark room where Violetta lay dying of consumption, plus the gorgeous period costumes everyone was wearing, also provided enough eye candy to keep almost anyone entranced. All together, this is a stunning show featuring designers, performers and musicians of incredible talent who’ve created something magical. This is how opera was meant to be seen.
La Traviata is playing at the Royal Opera House until 19 March. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Opera House website. Photo: Tristram Kenton