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Falling in love: Kristy Swift as Violetta and Harry Kersley as Alfredo.

Falling in love: Kristy Swift as Violetta and Harry Kersley as Alfredo.

La Traviata staged against a background of impending war

HOT’s music correspondent Brian Hick reviews Opera South East’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata at White Rock Theatre on Saturday 13 April. Photos from rehearsal by Mark Duncan.

Director Fraser Grant’s sensitive and intelligent approach to La Traviata moves the action to the cusp of WWI giving it an added layer of frisson with the inevitability of death and destruction. The narrative plays out as if experienced in the final seconds of Violetta’s life, a point well made at the very end where she ‘dies’ to those around her bed, but engages with us in her final ecstatic outpouring. It is moving and highly effective.

The focus throughout is Kristy Swift’s Violetta. She is not afraid to sing directly to the audience when appropriate – all the more so in Sempre libera when Alfredo was not off stage but at the front of the balcony. She allows her inherent illness to creep up on us, hinted at in Act 1 but devastating in Act 3 where she can barely crawl around the stage. Throughout the voice is fully focused and thrilling, with careful attention to diction even when the words themselves are not in a comfortable translation.

Fraser Grant makes Harry Kersley’s Alfredo a less than sympathetic figure. Gauche and often narcissistic, the tension and tightness at the top of the voice reflects his inability to empathise with those around him and it is not until the final act, when it is too late, that he begins to show any sign of maturity. By contrast Arthur Coomber’s Germont Pere quickly comes to realise the deep humanity of Violetta and takes her part against the rest of the world, though never at the expense of his own family.

It was an interesting idea to have his daughter on stage in Act 2, and particularly effective when she embraces Violetta. However, having her on stage in Act 3 raised more problems than it solved. Did she marry? Is she already a widow? We don’t really need to be thinking about this as the work ends.

Violetta on her death bed, attended by the trusty Dr Grenville ().

Violetta on her death bed, attended by the trusty Dr Grenville (David Woloszko).

There are many opportunities for smaller parts to make their mark, and David Woloszko’s Doctor Grenville brought warmth and authority to his few lines, while Jack Naismith impressed again as Giuseppe. The chorus have fun cross-dressing and the somewhat decadent Act 3 party with its belly-dancers is highly entertaining.

The orchestral balance was excellent under conductor Kenneth Roberts and the essential string writing came across with smooth ease, not always the case with smaller orchestras. Fraser Grant had done his own lighting design which was atmospherically effective throughout and demonstrates that you don’t need a West-End rig to create rapidly changing scenes.

Opera South East return in September for a G&S Extravaganza and in late November for a Kenneth Roberts premiere – Ananse and the Golden Box of Stories, coupled with Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Posted 10:37 Tuesday, Apr 16, 2019 In: Music & Sound

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