A guaranteed crowd-puller, Richard Eyre’s production of La Traviata is still as eye-catching as it was in 1994.
Bob Crowley’s set is a classic, painterly vision of 19th-century Paris and its environs: opulent drawing rooms in gold and crimson, a country villa in duck-egg blue, all set off by Jean Kalman’s romantic lighting. The women spin around the dance-floor in deep-coloured frocks, the men are handsome in penguin suits. All that remains is to animate these beautiful tableaux, and in the long history of this production there have been some memorable performances.
But the first night of this revival was not distinguished. Armenian soprano Hrachuhí Bassénz, luminous in the white dress first seen on Angela Gheorghiu, can produce a stream of gorgeous sound and breathtaking top notes. Her pianissimos are remarkable – but there is no sense of fragility, more iron-clad technique.
Her Alfredo is the sweet-toned tenor Liparit Avetisyan, seen last as Nemorino at the Royal Opera House. There was no hint of chemistry in their relationship. As Alfredo’s father, Simon Keenlyside looked awkward in a curly wig and ill-fitting clothes, and his legendary ringing baritone lacked energy.
Smaller characters such as Annina and Doctor Grevil made little impression while Flora, the bountiful mezzo-soprano Stephanie Wake-Edwards, came across as petulant rather than playful. They were not helped by the conductor, Daniel Oren, whose tempos lurched from breakneck to becalmed.
The tempos may settle, relationships may deepen after the first night. The set still looks magnificent and the two leading voices are definitely worth hearing.