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Review: La Traviata, Opera North, Newcastle Theatre Royal

It has been 15 years since Opera North last offered a new take on this Verdi classic. Gail-Nina Anderson was there

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Richard H Smith Victoria Sharp as Flora Bervoix (top), Daniel Norman as Gastone (centre) and Ladies of the Chorus of Opera North
Victoria Sharp as Flora Bervoix (top), Daniel Norman as Gastone (centre) and Ladies of the Chorus of Opera North

It’s 15 years since Opera North last offered a fresh production of Verdi’s classic account of Violetta, the doomed courtesan fluttering through the end of a brief life looking for love among the corrupt gaiety.

Their projected image of a huge moon that morphed into almost abstract medical slides wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but this was a Traviata where the shadow of death was implicit from the overture onwards. Despite some interesting innovations (setting it, for example, at the start of the twentieth century rather than the middle of the nineteenth) I was left unconvinced by the device of a large bed/platform dominating the stage throughout.

Too big to convey the intimacy of the final act, in the rather messy party scenes it produced an awkward division of the chorus.

The first scene was virtually a fancy-dress orgy, complete with opium-pipes, which certainly gave a new poignancy to the appearance of Alfredo (Ji-Min Park), a notably youthful suitor offering the possibility of a purer love.

Richard H Smith Daniel Norman as Gastone (centre) and the Chorus of Opera North in La Traviata
Daniel Norman as Gastone (centre) and the Chorus of Opera North in La Traviata
 

The throbbing gypsy beats dominating the party in Act II became an excuse for a series of hectic in-jokes about “Carmen”, irrelevant and confusing to a large part of the audience.

The calmer moments, however, gave us singing which combined lyrical pathos with dazzling virtuoso power, especially from the two young leads (both South Korean.)

As Violetta, Hye-Youn Lee produced an entirely vocally convincing portrait of a woman drawing on every last ounce of spiritual strength as she negotiated love, sacrifice and hope to find an emotional victory in the face of death.

Roland Wood, far from the heavy-handed father sometimes portrayed, was an effectively sympathetic and paternal Germont, convincingly readjusting his priorities in the death bed scene where father and son, doctor and maid all frame Violetta’s final moments in a vocal combination of heart-wrenching beauty.

Gail-Nina Anderson

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