Lyric Opera Productions and RTÉ Concert Orchestra: ‘La Traviata’ at National Concert Hall on 4 November 2017
Lyric Opera, maintaining its commitment to staging traditional operas for Dublin audiences, returns to Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’, last produced by the same company in the Gaiety Theatre in 2013, with star soprano Claudia Boyle once again in the principal role of Violetta. In the company’s normal venue, it is fun to see the National Concert Hall transformed into something resembling an opera theatre: the front rows of seating removed to create a ground-level pit for the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and the entire stage used as a theatrical space.
With Boyle’s costumes re-used from 2013, it is a partial revival, though while the earlier production had a specific time and place in mind (Occupied Paris in the 1940s), the German uniforms and swastikas from that production have now been carefully removed and it reverts to a timeless ‘opera-land’, with its giant picture-frame set merrily bathed in chocolate-box colours. Some costume-choices prove baffling in this cut-down context: why is Flora played as a trouser role, and is Annina really meant to be channelling Mrs Doyle?
In any case, it doesn’t really matter, as what we are treated to is a traditional interpretation of Verdi’s opera, with the reliably beautiful but ultimately irredeemable ‘fallen woman’, her feckless lover, and his pompous father. Anyone interested in a more critical interpretation of this deeply rewarding opera can look elsewhere: what you get here is the score and narrative, straight-up—not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. After all, with singers having to battle the concert hall’s unsympathetic acoustic, it’s probably best to keep things simple. Cutting corners has its own risks, however: the physical characterisation of the principals on stage is sometimes heavy-handed, more cartoonish than naturalistic and, with many scenes cut back, there are moments when the production threatens to become an abridged highlights version of the opera.
Voices are what count, however, and this aspect is very well served. Right now, Claudia Boyle is enjoying considerable success singing Violetta elsewhere, and currently between new stage productions of ‘Traviata’ at both Klagenfurt (Austria) and English National Opera. It is wonderful to be able to see her in this role at this moment in her career and, as ever, she certainly doesn’t disappoint. Her showpiece solo scene at the end of Act 1 is a sheer marvel of brilliance and control, while her aria ‘Dite alla giovine’ (‘tell your daughter..’) in the following scene is movingly sung, a thing of beauty.
Her co-star, Alexander James Edwards (Alfredo Germont) sings strongly and attractively, while Charles Johnston (Germont senior) brings necessary weight and gravitas to his role. The RTÉ Concert Orchestra, always a good opera ensemble, plays well under Timothy Burke, with the gentle string writing of this score brought through beautifully, though there are times when the full ensemble easily swamps the voices in this space.
The opera’s collision of public and private values (Violetta memorably describes herself as ‘abandoned in this teeming desert they call Paris…’) makes the role of the chorus vital, and the Lyric Opera Chorus, made up of student singers from the RIAM and DIT Conservatory, fit the bill well, projecting a strong vocal presence throughout. Simply presenting the basic storyline, sung clearly and effectively, proves once again the emotional power of this story. The audience, grateful, rises to its feet as one at the end.
Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata (libretto by Francesco Maria Piave)
Produced by Lyric Opera Productions
Director and Set Design: Vivian Coates; Lighting Design: Alastair Kerr; Conductor: Timothy Burke, directing the RTÉ Concert Orchestra
Cast: Claudia Boyle (Violetta); Alexander James Edwards (Alfredo Germont); Charles Johnston (Giorgio Germont); Mihaela Loredana Chirvase (Flora); Muireann Mulrooney (Annina); Owen Gilhooly (Gaston); Rory Musgrave (Baron Duophol)