La Traviata (WNO) - A Young Critic’s Review

La Traviata – WNO

Wales Millenium Centre

The glamour and tradition of opera is celebrated in WNOs only ‘staple’ offering this season. La Traviata, an opera which fits perfectly within the Fallen Women theme, introduces Violetta, a frivolous, flirtatious courtesan whose lavish life is interrupted by the young, persistent Alfredo, who persuades her to embrace a monogamous existence with him.

Despite her resistance, Violetta lets her heart guide her and, for a time, she is happy living the life of a woman in love. Marked as a fallen woman, this cannot last, and the tragedy fulfils its role as the lovers are torn apart by societal expectations and fatal illness.

The performance viewed was sadly plagued with, in Act I, an issue with sound, where Violetta seemed barely audible and, finally, in Act III, pointless use of dry ice that caused more coughing from the audience than an enhancement of on-stage atmosphere.

Following the bizarre Manon Lescaut, La Traviata is a comfortable watch. The score, beautifully played, is performed well by Linda Richardson (Violetta) and Peter Sonn (Alfredo), with Alan Opie (Giorgio) and Rebecca Afonwy-Jones (Flora) adding humour and charm. There is a lack of passion or chemistry, however – the death scene barely tugs at my emotions, and my lighter side wishes the presence of the gypsies and matadors could have been dragged out or repeated.

That said, as the central production in an experimental season, La Traviata is a relaxing, sumptuous treat. Designer Tanya McCallin contrasting sets perfectly compliment the level of drama with the use of roses (red vs. white), colour (dark vs. light) and furniture (clutter vs. minimalism), reflecting the themes of raw abandon, purity of love, and death.

La Traviata is undoubtedly overshadowed by the more challenging and contemporary adaptations it is sandwiched between, but still a worthy competitor for attention and praise.

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Eagerly awaiting the final installment of WNOs 'Fallen Woman' season, 'Boulevarde Solitude', I held back on reviewing the lovely La Traviata, hoping to write a round-up blog instead, comparing the two more experimental productions with the traditional. However, illness set in, and I was unable to attend 'Boulevarde Solitude' to complete the set, and have struggled with attempts to write the above review since. 

Practically an opera 'virgin', I found reviewing a traditional performance very difficult. I am not a musician or professional singer; I am not an opera expert, nor even a fan (or at least, I wasn't). I am always more comfortable reviewing something odd or different if it's not a style or genre I feel completely au fait with, but La Traviata was neither. It was simply...simple. Not in craft, of course, but in story, and in format. It was opera as I expected opera to be. 

Critiquing as an amateur, and a 'newbie', I couldn't say whether this was "La Traviata as it's never been seen before!" or "filled with mediocre performances", or "the best Violetta I've ever seen". Centuries old, but a damn sight younger than our friend Shakey, I still felt that I needed to be an expert before I could say anything worth reading about opera, especially if I didn't want to p**s anyone off with opinions about the music, composition, chorus, style, etc. that might show me up for the amateur I am.

I have LOVED my toe-dips into opera however, and hope to continue my education by seeing as much of WNOs, Music Theatre Wales and any other company's operas that I can in the next couple of years. And like when I began reviewing dance, and even traditional theatre, I will keep writing and reviewing, because sometimes a fresh, inexperienced pair of eyes can see a great deal more than those who go with a back-log of comparisons and specific expectations. 

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