Longborough Festival Opera’s theatre-in-a-barn (clad in Classical columns and with seats instead of hay bales) is known for excellent Wagner productions on a shoestring.
After a successful Flying Dutchman comes a brash, 20th-century media setting of La Traviata, directed by Daisy Evans. She imagines Verdi’s courtesan Violetta as a Hollywood movie star addicted to drugs and parties, and her lover Alfredo as a rich besotted fan. But the analogy adds nothing to Verdi’s perfectly plotted original and the idea of staging the first act on a cluttered movie set is the stuff of Rossini comedies.
Anna Patalong’s Violetta is inspired by Marilyn Monroe, though she looks more like a young Callas. Her dark-hued soprano smoulders and sobs and her dying scene is suitably affecting if only she weren’t lying at the front of the stage where most of the audience can’t see her. The constant clowning of the minor characters and the melodramatic emoting of tenor Peter Gijsbertsen as Alfredo and Mark Stone as Germont rob us of sympathy for their emotional turmoil.
The big voices sometimes override the small orchestra but the simplicity and clarity of the orchestral lines come as a welcome respite. Conductor Thomas Blunt does well to keep in contact with the scattered chorus, which makes a powerful sound for such small forces.
At the core of La Traviata is a chamber opera, ideal for a small theatre like Longborough. Evans could have created a genuinely intimate experience, rather than this awkward Hollywood farce.