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Violetta review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘a truncated La Traviata’

Loretta Hopkins in Violetta at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Opera Allegra
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Violetta, first seen at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, starts off with a surprise. Though it is a chamber version of Verdi’s La Traviata, the first music to be heard is Erik Satie’s gorgeous waltz Je Te Veux. The declaration of a woman giving herself to her lover, the song is some 50 years younger than La Traviata, which premiered in 1853.

The costumes locate the action in Satie’s belle époque and his song is shared between Violetta herself and an older woman. She turns out to be Giorgia Germont, the mother of Violetta’s lover, Alfredo. This is a second surprise, since Violetta’s antagonist is usually a baritone called Giorgio.

Verdi’s opera could certainly be transformed into an intense three-hander, and the idea of a ‘heavy mother’ holds potential. The trouble is that Violetta – essentially a jump-cut edit of a conventional Traviata – fails to explore the specific dynamics between mother and son and mother and son’s lover.

Moreover, Violetta’s social status is unclear – is she really a demi-mondaine? – and one needs to know the full-fat opera to make sense of the truncated scene in which Alfredo publicly denounces her.

The strongest performance comes from Ben Leonard, a recent alumnus of the National Opera Studio. A firm-voiced, live-wire Alfredo, he alone offers trenchant diction that justifies the choice of the original Italian rather than an English version.

Loretta Hopkins, a stylish Fiordiligi for Dulwich Opera last year, seems overstretched by the multifaceted demands of Violetta, while Alison Thorman’s Madame Germont remains monochromatic. Simon Howat is an alert and sensitive pianist.

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A chamber version of La Traviata that sets itself too many challenges