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La Traviata review at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff – ‘solidly performed’

Kang Wang and Linda Richardson in the Welsh National Opera production of La Traviata. Photo: Betina Skovbro
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It’s hard to overstate the social radicalism for its time of Verdi’s La Traviata. Even today, over 160 years since its 1853 premiere, the searing vocal and dramatic power of its heroine, Violetta – a sex worker with far greater moral integrity than the upper classes she serves – packs societal punch.

Or it should. Not unusually, however, David McVicar’s popular traditional staging for Welsh National Opera, revived by director Sarah Crisp, soft-pedals social resonances in favour of straight romantic tragedy as thwarted lovers, Violetta and Alfredo, reunite just before her death from tuberculosis.

As far as it goes the reading is solid, with notable highlights. Visually, there’s greater claustrophobic decadence than hitherto, as designer Tanya McCallin’s sumptuously beautiful, Tissot-inspired interiors are enhanced with black furnishings, subtly lit by Jennifer Tipton. But while the excellent chorus clearly relish semi-respectable partying, the drama is not quite so unbuttoned.

Linda Richardson’s Violetta is sung with assurance, if little heightened contrast – and she becomes biddable all too quickly when Germont senior (a richly-voiced but hardly lecherous Roland Wood) insists she break off relations with his son. Nonetheless, she summons the requisite passion on her death bed to match Kang Wang’s impressive Alfredo, who overcomes initial stiffness to impart a promising mix of dignified reserve and coiled emotion in a gleaming, Italianate tenor.

The orchestra respond smartly to conductor James Southall and supporting roles are well judged: Sian Meinir’s Annina is unintimidated by Germont senior, while James Cleverton’s Douphol exudes oily presence within Flora’s Parisian salon, airily hosted by Rebecca Afonwy-Jones. Here, a troupe of Spanish dancers bring welcome erotic focus thanks to Colm Seery’s sharp revival of choreography by Andrew George.

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Verdi’s tragic romance solidly performed in a sumptuously decadent setting