"La Traviata" (The courtesan) by Verdi is based on the adaptation of the play "The Lady of The Camellias (La Dame aux Camelias) " by French writer Alexandre Dumas (the younger). The play was an adaptation of his romantic novel of the same name and written around his affair with the well known courtesan Marie Alphonsine Duplessis (not her real name of course). Marie died of tuberculosis in 1847 aged just 23. Alexandre was the illegitimate son of the famous writer Alexandre Dumas (the elder) who wrote such classic novels as "The Count of Monte Cristo".
Unlike many operas, "La Traviata" has a simple linear storyline, with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and is the story of the young and beautiful courtesan Violetta who is knowingly dying of tuberculosis. When a young man from a good provincial family falls in love with her (and visits her every day when she is ill), Violetta for once follows her heart and not her purse and falls in love with Alfredo, so much in love that unknown to him she starts selling all her possessions to keep them in the lifestyle that they are used to. Happiness is interrupted as Alfredo's father - Giorgio - comes to visit and demands that for the honour of his soon-to-be-married daughter and his family honour too, Violetta should give up Alfredo forever and let him return home to the family. Alfredo of course knows nothing of his father's demands and thinks Violetta has abandoned him and returned to her former ways. He finds out the truth just in time to be with Violetta in her dying moments.
There is a little more to the story than that obviously, or this opera would not run for three acts, but it is a beautiful romantic story that should not be spoiled by telling you everything in it.
Tonight, the role of Violetta is sung by Maria Tonina (Soprano) and Maria is simply outstanding in this role. Violetta is a demanding role for any vocalist as apart from the technical requirements, the on-stage time is pretty much most of the opera. Maria displays amazing control over her voice and delights the audience from start to finish.
The role of her lover Alfredo Germont is played by Ruslan Zinevych (Tenor), and this is a very strong performance in another very demanding role. Maria and Ruslan make a great combination on stage and the lovers' chemistry works well between them. You have to believe there is something between these two characters as an audience or this whole opera will simply fail.
The role of Giorgio Germont (Alfredo's father) is played by Vladimir Dragos (Baritone), and it is a wonderful character performance in which he utilises that great baritone voice of his while at the same time clearly leaving the two lead roles in command of the performance.
All of the other performances tonight were of a high standard, but this is really an opera of the three principal characters.
Opera at times has the ability to open a window on the times in which it was originally performed, and "La Traviata" is a sad reminder of just how common death from tuberculosis at a young age (or any age) was in the mid 19th century. It is act III in which Violetta knows that she only has a few hours left to live and is re-united with not only her lover Alfredo, but finally accepted by his father into his family as a "daughter" that gives much of this story its enduring power. There is something slightly surreal too about that beautiful and strong soprano voice of Maria's coming out of the character of Violetta at a time when she would be painfully fighting for every breath that she was taking.
Ellen Kent has brought another great production of a classic to the stage. This was another full set and period costume production, and doing that for a one night only performance is outstanding. My only slight dislike of the costumes was that the ladies' gowns were of a material that was a bit too light. These costumes need weight so that they swish along the floor as the ladies walk. A tiny detail and I am being picky as it is after all the performance that counts and that was wonderful tonight.
Like "Rigoletto" that I was at last night, this production uses the same Moldovan orchestra and mostly Eastern European cast. Maria Tonina played Gilda last night and Vladimir Dragos played Rigoletto. The fact that both of these performers have managed to put two outstanding performances in on two different operas on two consecutive nights is amazing. Ellen Kent productions do exactly what they say they do, and that is bring the spectacle of opera to a wider audience, but the very busy touring schedule must require enormous strength from the performers.
Tonight was simply a beautiful story set to beautiful music and words performed by a wonderful set of artists on stage.
Review by Tom King