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Grave misgivings

ENO’s new staging of Verdi’s story of tragic love is not a Traviata to die for

22 March, 2018 — By Sebastian Taylor

Lukhanyo Moyake as Alfredo and Claudia Boyle as Violetta in Daniel Kramer’s production of La Traviata. Photo: Catherine Ashmore

It’s the greatest death scene in all opera, Violetta’s death in Verdi’s La Traviata traditionally performed in a bedroom scene. Not so in Daniel Kramer’s new English National Opera production at the London Coliseum. Instead, believe you me, it’s set in a big graveyard with 16 tombstones where Violetta is digging her own grave.

Two graves join together to provide her death-bed. And the actual death scene is so devoid of romance, I’ll bet not a tear was shed in the house. First reaction to the setting is to guffaw. Then, as its true awfulness sets in, you think: “I don’t believe it, someone’s having a laugh.”

The ghastly death scene is sad as things are going along quite well beforehand. The initial ballroom act is right out of a glitzy Busby Berkeley show, albeit with inane crudities designed to appeal to the younger generation. And Flora’s party goes with a swing, albeit with more inanities. Singing is pretty good too. While Irish soprano Claudia Boyle may lack the power to fill the huge auditorium at times, she’s well in command of a lovely, lovely voice.

South African tenor Lukhanyo Mayake is almost like an Italian-style Alfredo, sensuous, lyrical and vigorous. Legendary baritone and ENO stalwart Alan Opie is truely magnificent as Alfredo’s dad, Germont – a role he’s been singing for 30 years. I’ve always thought a good Traviata hangs on having a good Germont – and Opie delivers in spades.

Unfortunately, although soloists are first-rate, they’re not given any help by the complete failure to use scenery or spotlights to shrink the stage setting. Instead, even in that horrible graveyard ending, they’re hung out to dry in the vast Coliseum auditorium.

Otherwise, the ENO chorus is on top form again and conductor Leo McFall pulls out all the Verdian stops from the orchestra.

• ENO’s La Traviata runs until April 13 at the Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2, 020 7845 9300, www.eno.org

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