Monday, February 13, 2017

La Traviata

Opera Australia presents, LA TRAVIATA, an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Francesco Maria Plave, in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. Selected dates between 3 February - 1 April.

LA TRAVIATA, was first performed in March, 1853. Verdi first saw the play adaptation, by Alexandre Dumas, fils, of his novel, THE LADY OF THE CAMELLIAS, in Paris and was inspired to write an opera on these themes - he wrote the score in just under a month - a wonder.

Violetta, a demi-mondaine, renounces her life of pleasure for the sake of Alfredo; but is persuaded by his father to give him up for his own and his family's good. She returns to her former protector, with whom Alfredo fights a duel and is forced to flee the country. He returns to find her dying of consumption.

In my experience, my favourite Verdi operas are AIDA, LA TRAVIATA and THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. LA TRAVIATA is my musical favourite. My introduction to TRAVIATA would have been an LP recording with Joan Sutherland, aeons ago. This production of the opera by Elijah Moshinsky was first performed in 1994 - 23 years ago. It is set in the period of its creation, the Paris of the 1850's by Michael Yeargan, and has a sumptuous four scene design that seems to be a recreation of Parisian paintings of the time period. The detail is astonishing and the look has a reality that is breathtaking, the singers dressed in period costume, by Peter J. Hall, with a Lighting Design, by Nigel Levings, that simulates an authentic atmosphere and creates spatial usage of a beautiful complexity.

I have always enjoyed this production. This performance, however, is the first time that I have been transported, such that time seemed to be suspended. Ermonela Jaho, as Violetta, has the physical delicacy and look to bring great impact to the story of a woman dying of consumption. Besides, she can sing the range of this role with the most delicate fragility and softness, to the defiant rally of the famous Sempre Libre, of the first act, with the greatest of skill and emotion. But what is best, is transfixing, is the commitment to the physical life (and death) from every fibre of this actor/singer's body. Her acting of this role is superb. Ms Jaho has the sentient presence of an energy that is able to translate the power of Verdi's music through every gesture across a range of movement that telegraphs the human dilemma of Violetta's decline with clarity and brimming empathy. Ms Jaho's stage presence and her movement through the moving third act on a stripped stage of enormous naked spareness is a masterclass in acting technique - Ms Jaho matches the musical portrait of this grief stricken and dying woman with a similar inspiration of genius. Verdi would have cheered!

One is completely absorbed by every moment that Ms Jaho is on stage - this is true star quality. I have not seen it for such a long time on a Sydney opera stage and when this whole audience stood to give her a standing ovation it was an impulse of gratitude and admiration of the most genuine regard - this was no first night claque of subscribers rising in loyalty to the company, this was a whole audience thanking a performer for the gift she had just given us. This is why and when opera can be the Greatest of the Performing Art Forms. I was still 'high' outside on the Opera House Promenade twenty minutes later - at my time of life and stage witnessing, a rare event to have a new benchmark of brilliance, of excellence. It makes life worth living.

Her performance seemed to vivify the other performers: Ho-Yoon Chung rising to the demands of his Violetta, even though his acting style is, in contrast, gestural and, relatively, operatic melodrama, his musical efforts became richer as the night proceeded; Jose Carbo as Alfred's father, Giorgio, was provoked to a level of being in the role; whilst Dominica Matthews (Flora), Adrian Tamburini (Baron Douphol), Natalie Aroyan (Annina) gave support with warmth and vulnerability, as they usually do -  jewels in the crown of Opera Australia.

The orchestra led by Renato Palumbo had a wealth of sound and discipline that seamlessly supported the performers and 'told' the musical story. The Revival Director, Hugh Halliday, has prepared this production with great care, the Chorus owning the great crowd scenes with ease and wit.

LA TRAVIATA, as taken its inspiration from the Dumas, fils, novel, where the principal character is called Marguerite - made famous in the 1936 Greta Garbo film, Directed by George Cukor - based on an actual woman, Marie Duplessis - a mistress of Dumas', himself. This story continues to inspire artists: Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE, with Nicole Kidman, and in recent times an extraordinary work ( of a musical cabaret style) by Sydney artist Sheridan Harbridge - SONGS FOR THE FALLEN, which travelled to New York to great acclaim.

Do go. Try to catch Ms Jaho. Understand, that two other singers take over the role during its long scheduled run. Beg, borrow and steal to catch Ms Jaho before she finishes.

P.S. The above clip is not of this performance. But it does give a hint of its sumptuous Design.

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