OperaUpClose really are the Ronseal of opera companies, as they do exactly what it says on the tin. By taking opera, an art form that is more commonly associated with being performed on large, grandiose stages, and instead placing it in the smaller and more modest Soho Theatre, the audience partake in a more intimate, intense and of course up close experience of operatic talent. In keeping with the company’s ethos of attempting to make opera more accessible to the masses, director Robin Norton-Hale has taken Verdi’s La Traviata and translated the libretto it into English.
With a rotating cast of leads, the songbird Louise Tee was on this occasion captivatingly delightful as the ill-fated Violetta. The epitome of an opera-comique, the plot of La Traviata is comically farcical, owing to the whistle-stop speed at which Violetta falls in love with a bespectacled stranger called Alfredo (Lawrence Olsworth-Peter) and embarks on a relationship with him – a relationship that his father swiftly forces her to end. Following a few more twists and turns in their break-neck speed rendezvous, the work culminates with a frail Violetta dying from an unnamed illness in the arms of her beloved Alfredo.
As Violetta, Tee wows with her vocal acrobatics, trills and vibrate, which are so powerful they seem to reverberate off the walls of Soho Theatre. Such an impressive voice, coupled with natural flair for conveying the buoyant yet enigmatic nature of Violetta’s contradictory personality, makes for a spellbinding performance. Perhaps it was due to nerves, but as Alfredo, Olsworth-Peter got off to a shaky start as he doesn’t seem to have the same level of control that his female counterpart exudes so effortlessly. That said, his portrayal of the bookish and hapless Alfredo’s character traits is believable and engaging. This small cast of five are perhaps at their finest when accentuating the inherently humorous moments of the work, such as the champagne fuelled ‘Drinking Song’ that sets the piece upon its merry way.
Verdi’s sprightly score is brought to life majestically by just three musicians; it is orchestrated in such a clever manner that the only instruments that are required are simply a piano, cello and clarinet. Once again, this is testament to OperaUpClose’s mantra of stripping back any unnecessary pomp and ceremony associated with the genre, and leaving only the bare essentials – an approach that I for one think should be applauded. As with any other art form, opera has to keep reinventing itself in order not to stagnant, and OperaUpClose’s production feels like a fresh and exciting direction that the operatic world should consider moving in.
If you have ever dismissed opera, thinking that it really wouldn’t be your cup of tea, then I would urge you to give La Traviata a chance, as it may just act as your gateway to discover a world of operatic delights.
La Traviata is playing at Soho Theatre until 14 September. For tickets and more information, visit the Soho Theatre website.