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La Traviata review at London Coliseum – ‘Daniel Kramer’s woefully misguided staging’

Claudia Boyle in La Traviata at London Coliseum. Photo: Tristram Kenton Claudia Boyle in La Traviata at the London Coliseum. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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According to Operabase.com the most frequently performed opera in the world is currently Verdi’s La Traviata.

For this reason, every opera company seeks to maintain a viable staging – one audiences will be happy to revisit again and again.

English National Opera’s new production – the first by the company’s artistic director Daniel Kramer since he took up his post in 2016 – is not going to fit that particular bill.

It has some good elements. Kramer and his design team understand that the milieu in which courtesan Violetta exists is a louche one, and the manic crew that turn up in their wildly over-the-top fancy-dress costumes for her party in Act I, as well as for Flora’s in Act II, are ostentatiously presented, pleasure-seeking hedonists: Flora’s event quickly descends into an orgy.

But Kramer’s vision fails to suggest the emotional niceties and nuances observed even within such a blatantly superficial society: what ought to be complex and subtle becomes overstated and camp.

Money has been spent on Lizzie Clachan’s glittery sets for the party scenes (Busby Berkeley seems to be the visual reference point), even though the plainness of the countryside idyll in Act II – where Violetta and her naive young lover Alfredo have hidden themselves away from the crazy delights of the Parisian demimonde –look bizarrely stark.

When the curtain goes up on Act III, Violetta – traditionally visualised as dying from tuberculosis in her own bedroom – is quite literally digging her own grave. It’s a shock. Is this meant to imply that her death is all her own fault?

There are problems, too, with the central casting. Claudia Boyle is a physically graceful Violetta, but her delicate soprano is too small for this role in a house of this size and she regularly sings under the note.

Making his UK debut as Alfredo, South African tenor Lukhanyo Moyake brings good vocal material and possesses clear potential, but his singing lacks finesse and as yet he’s an awkward stage performer.

Providing something close to a model of Verdi singing, however, is Alan Opie, in his 50th year with the company, as Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont. Binding notes and words together, he alone maintains the vocal standards in a principal role ENO needs to achieve; his performance is duly received with an ovation.

Smaller roles are all decently done, and everyone involved makes a conspicuous effort to deliver the directorial concept, however ill-judged it may be.

Keeping the score on track is conductor Leo McFall – another company debutant, who conveys a sense of style; but it’s not nearly enough to redeem a crudely conceived, woefully misguided production.

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A flawed staging and uneven casting sabotage a much-needed English National Opera success