Michael Tanner

Bare necessities

The revival of Richard Eyre’s production of La Traviata at the Royal Opera didn’t go quite as planned, because Elena Kelessidi was ill, but I wonder whether that made much difference so far as the audience was concerned. We had instead Victoria Loukianetz from the Ukraine; she has previously sung Gilda at Covent Garden, and Oscar is also in her repertoire, two roles that seem a lot more suitable than the fairly heavy one of Violetta. But the opera was played mostly as a costume concert, understandable as Loukianetz had flown in the afternoon of the performance; the audience seemed happy with it that way, with innumerable gusts of applause, further contributing to the breaking-up of an evening which was characterised by sluggish tempi, and two no doubt highly profitable long intervals. Nor, in my view, is it a good idea to open all the traditional cuts in Traviata, a misplaced homage which backfires. One doesn’t need to have crudely naturalistic demands of opera to feel that Violetta shouldn’t be able to manage two verses of ‘Parigi, o cara’, or to find that Germont père adds insult to injury when he has a cabaletta after his lethally dull ‘Di Provenza’. Verdi’s true radicalism as a composer and dramatist comes through if he is pruned, and is concealed if he isn’t. No one performs the ballet music in Don Carlos, and the concessions to convention in the middle-period operas should be seen in the same light. La Traviata is essentially a quick-paced piece, in which Act I perfectly establishes the scale of the proceedings. It is no good having time running out for Violetta while it is distended for us.

Loukianetz inclines to pathos rather than tragedy, with her Scarlett O’Hara figure and her small voice.

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