Opera Holland Park’s season opener is Verdi’s popular classic, played in Cordelia Chisholm’s elegant period designs evoking the sophistication and sexual ambiguity of the pleasure-seeking demi-monde of fin de siecle Paris.
Director Rodula Gaitanou presents the populous party scenes with brilliance, while alternating them with the intimacy and emotional depth of the private world of Violetta and her young lover Alfredo – at least until they are torn apart by his father’s stern appeal for the courtesan to do the decent thing by his respectable family. The result is a remarkably complete depiction of the work’s central themes, handsomely conveyed in visual terms.
So much in La Traviata depends on a sympathetic portrayal of the central character, the woman – to translate the title – has gone astray. Australian soprano Lauren Fagan takes on the dual challenge of singing and acting the complex role with accomplishment and authority, not merely singing the notes but expressing the feelings behind them, while her charting of the tubercular heroine’s steady physical decline is finely and movingly judged.
Sardinian tenor Matteo Desole offers an Alfredo of warm humanity and vocal confidence. Baritone Stephen Gadd brings discrimination to his rounded portrayal of Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont.
The smaller roles fit neatly into the wider picture, with Nicholas Garrett’s menacing Baron Douphol and Ellie Edmonds’ watchful Annina leaving particularly strong impressions.
Musically, the performance takes a few minutes to settle, with some initially untidy ensemble; but once it does the strength and physical involvement of the Opera Holland Park Chorus and the tonal vitality of the City of London Sinfonia both shine through.
Having risen through the ranks to enjoy a burgeoning career, Anglo-Ghanaian conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren shows a keen appreciation of the drama inherent in Verdi’s music.