Monday, July 13, 2015

LA TRAVIATA - Opera Australia

Renato Palumbo
Lorina Gore (Violetta)  Rame Lahaj (Alfredo) 


 Elijah Moshinsky
Set Designer:
 Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer:
  Peter J. Hall Hall
Lighting Designer:
  Nigel Levings
Opera Australia:
 Joan Sutherland Theatre: Sydney Opera House until July 22nd .

Performance - July 9, 2015 reviewed by Bill Stephens

Even though this production has been in the repertoire for more than 20 years, it remains a glittering jewel in Opera Australia’s current repertoire. A spectacular and deeply satisfying realisation of Verdi’s glorious opera, inspired by the Dumas play “The Lady of the Camellias”, “La Traviata” depicts the story of a glamorous,  tuberculosis-stricken courtesan, Violetta,  who falls hopelessly in love with a handsome young nobleman, Alfredo, whom she meets at one of her own lavish soirees.

When Alfredo’s father prevails on her to abandon her affair with his son, to preserve his family’s reputation, she reluctantly agrees. It’s the repercussions of this decision which drive the opera to its inevitable, gloriously melodramatic conclusion.

Violetta's Party - Act 1 - "La Traviata"
Rame Lahaj (Alfredo) Lorina Gore (Violetta)

Moshinsky has set this production in Paris in 1877. Designer’s Michael Yeargan and Peter J. Hall have taken full advantage of this to provide sumptuous sets and costumes which realistically depict the fashions, furniture and architecture of the period. Each scene is visually stunning, especially those for the two brilliantly staged party scenes.

Lorina Gore (Violetta) Jose Cabo (Giorgio Germont) 
By contrast, the atmospheric Act 11 courtyard with its autumn leaves softly fluttering to the ground provides the perfect environment for Alfredo’s father to persuade Violetta to give up his son. So too does the final scene depicting Violetta’s once lavish salon, now cold and stripped of all its gorgeous furnishings.

But it is not only the physical look of this production which makes it so impressive.  Indeed, among the particular pleasures of this performance was spotting many previously unnoticed details in the staging which now clarify and more sharply focus the story telling.

Tama Matheson is credited as the revival director, and he has done a superb job. But given that he was in the country to rehearse “Don Carlos”, his other Opera Australia production, no doubt Moshinsky himself would have found it impossible to resist offering some refinements.

Both the party scenes crackle from beginning to end. Especially impressive was the fastidious detailing obvious among the ensemble, who not only sing superbly but also remain totally engaged in contributing to the unfolding drama. 

The opening scene in Violetta’s salon, packed with gorgeously gowned party guests, actually feels like a party. Her guests gossip and preen, and there are multiple back stories going on. Despite all this activity, the focus remains steadfastly on Violetta, and her unfolding story.

Flora's Party - "La Traviata" 

The effect is similar at Flora's riotous party, when their response to Alfredo's insult, and Baron Douphol's resultant challenge, is electrifying.

Lorina Gore, in her Australian role debut as Violetta, is quite simply sensational in the role.  She’s beautiful to look at and sings brilliantly. She possesses a magnetic stage presence and her Ah fors’e lui and Sempre libere raise the hair on your arms. She’s also a very good actor, perfectly able to transform her Violetta into a magnetic flesh and blood person.

In the first act she’s the perfect hostess, darting about the room, topping up champagne glasses, making sure her guests are chatting with the right people.  She’s charmingly polite when introduced to Alfredo, but unable to keep her eyes off him as their mutual attraction starts to deepen.

Lorina Gore (Violetta_ John Longmuir ((Gastone) 

When Alfredo accepts the invitation to sing Libiamo she observes quietly from the sidelines, before joyously stepping in to join him and complete the song before ushering her guests out for supper. No matter where she is onstage, even among the crowd, it is impossible not to watch her.

In the second act, her responses to Alfredo’s father’s pleas  to give up Alfredo, and later, her total devastation when Alfredo assaults her in front of Flora’s party guests, then finally, her heart-rending Addio del passato before coughing up blood then dying in Alfredo’s arms in the final scene, all contribute to a memorable star-making performance.

Gennadi Dubinsky (Doctor Grenvil) Lorina Gore (Violetta) Natalie Aroyan (Annina)

Almost as impressive is her Alfredo. Tall, dark and handsome,  Kosovo-born, Rame Lahaj is giving his first Australian performances. Genuine leading man material, he's also a fine actor with the ability to make every move count, and an appreciation of the power of stillness. His scenes with Gore generate real emotional electricity.

Dignified and elegant as Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, Jose Carbo not only sings the role superbly but brings to it a strongly sympathetic presence, especially in the final scene when he embraces Violetta as his daughter.

All the supporting roles are strongly interpreted, especially Pelham Andrews smouldering convincingly as Violetta’s jealous protector, Dominica Matthews and Luke Gabbedy contributing to the fun as Flora Bervoix and her protector Marquis d'Obigny,  Natalie Aroyan, quietly apprehensive as Violetta’s maid, Annina and Gennadi Dubinsky as Doctor Grenvil.

Violetta humiliated by Alfredo.
Lorina Gore (Violetta) Jose Carbo (Giorgio Germont) 

But besides the lavish mounting, and the magnificent performances of the principals and ensemble, there is a third distinguishing factor with this present production. It's the superb playing of the Australian Opera and Ballet orchestra under maestro Renato Palumbo.  The beautiful prelude to Act 1 almost drew tears, and so would have the prelude to Act 3 had not some philistine’s mobile phone gone off during it. Elsewhere Palumbo insured that the singers had the space to expand, while enhancing their work both lush romantic or dramatic sound. 

Hopefully, Opera Australia have filmed this production with this exceptional cast. Like the Australian Ballet's superb production of "Giselle", this production is one to cherish.

                                                 All photos by Branco Giaca

                                This review also appears in Australian Arts Review