La traviata, Glyndebourne, East Sussex, UK – review

Glyndebourne’s got talent. Or rather, the privately funded opera company on the Sussex Downs has unearthed an unusually gifted young Russian called Venera Gimadieva, who sings directly to the audience (aka the judges) like a competitor on a well-known televised talent show. Her soprano is bright, even, fresh, shapely. She meets with effortless ease the exacting vocal demands set by Verdi for his leading lady in La traviata – and has a matching stage confidence. As yet, however, Gimadieva is a singer in search of a character. She lacks the key ingredient – soul.

This new production, from the experienced director-designer team of Tom Cairns and Hildegard Bechtler, has presentation-box appeal – all surface, no substance. The setting, framed by two curved and textured walls, is blandly modern, populated in the two party scenes by fashionistas and arty types, staring out across the stage like Tussaud waxworks. All of which prompts too many basic questions. Who are these people? What have they to do with the social distinctions and sexual stigmas of Verdi’s opera? Why should Violetta “sacrifice” her love for Alfredo in a society that has no obvious social barriers? Beneath the veneer of designer suits and frocks lies an ultra-conventional, emotionally arid, sexless show.

Where it scores is in its musical schooling, for which the conductor, Mark Elder, can take credit. Beneath the long lines he coaxes from the London Philharmonic, he gives the music a precise rhythmic pulse and draws revealing contrapuntal threads at the least expected moments. All the usual cuts are opened out. On the debit side, Elder invites applause after each number, chopping up the flow of an already flattened drama, and he superimposes Germont père’s piped voice for the Act Three letter-reading, torpedoing the pathos of Violetta’s greatest scene.

Michael Fabiano’s good-looking, robustly sung Alfredo has a touch of honey and a hint of steel. Tassis Christoyannis sings Germont with a light, forthright baritone that serves the character well. All this adds up to a lot of talent, which the “judges” clearly loved – but it’s wasted on this vapid Traviata.

Letter in response to this article:

Are heroines no longer worthy of opera-goers’ sympathy? / From Ms Maureen Green

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