In contrast to Krol Roger, Kasper Holten’s production also running at ROH this season, everyone at least knows of Verdi’s La Traviata, and especially this production. It is one of the world’s best known operatic works and that makes it both easy and difficult to put on. Audiences will flock to see it, but the question is whether what we see is a production worthy of merit against the plethora of alternative versions by major houses. To put it bluntly, the relative success or failure of this opera is down to the casting of Violetta; she is the fallen heroine and the plot follows her emotive journey through love to loss and finally death. We are in safe hands with Marina Rebeka.
This is the 12th revival of Richard Eyre’s production, with over 150 performances under its belt since its premiere in 1994. It is quite a beautiful production; Bob Crowley’s sets are imposing, to match the impressive costuming, and the golden lighting brings the space to life. It produces such a pretty picture to behold. There is not, however, a huge amount of action to be seen on stage, and sometimes the drama becomes quite static. The cast do well to cope with this and have to mostly fend for themselves.
Ismael Jordi initially appears a little uneasy as Alfredo, slightly struggling with intonation, but produces a youthful and charming sound. His portrayal is full of love, and warms into the role in Acts Two and Three with some stunning singing towards the end. Marina Rebeka is very secure in the role of Violetta; she deals perfectly with the lack of direction by showing off how good her voice is, producing one of the best ‘Sempre Liberas’ I have heard. In the role of Germont Pere, Franco Vassalo is slightly wooden though suitably stately and authoritative. A highlight of the evening was the orchestra’s subtle and versatile playing. Verdi’s well-loved masterpiece felt at times like a nuanced chamber piece and at others it bloomed into a rich and full tone under the baton of Mark Minkowski.
From time to time the mind wanders during this production; it doesn’t always keep the attention of the spectator. Eyre’s La Traviata is a lovely thing to listen to and something pretty to look at – a sort of singing painting if you will – but as a very traditional and well-worn production, not hugely exciting.
La Traviata plays at the Royal Opera House until 4 July. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Opera House website. Photo by Catherine Ashmore.