Verdi – La Traviata
Violetta Valéry – Ailyn Pérez
Alfredo Germont – Stephen Costello
Giorgio Germont – Simon Keenlyside
Baron Douphol – Ashley Riches
Dr Grenvil – Kim Jihoon
Flora Bervoix – Nadezhda Karyazina
Marquis d’Obigny – Charbel Mattar
Gastone de Letorières – David Butt Philip
Annina – Gaynor Keeble
Giuseppe – Neil Gillespie
Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Dan Ettinger.
Stage Director – Richard Eyre
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Tuesday, May 6th, 2014.
I have always had a kind of weird love-hate relationship with Traviata. Well, hate is perhaps a strong word, indifference is perhaps more appropriate. Many performances I have seen seem interminable and are usually compromised by the fact that there are very few sopranos who can reach the summit that is the Everest of the leading role. A light coloratura soprano who can get through the first act can struggle later on. Likewise a more full-bodied lyric soprano can struggle in the first act but come into her stride later on.
Just as with any iconic role, there are those who will say ‘X’ is not Callas or Caballé or whoever. But surely they are missing the point. Those singers of the past will never come back and quite frankly, I would rather watch and listen to a great singer-actress of today hit greatness offering me the matchless experience of listening to an unamplified voice achieve the greatest feats that only years or even decades of practice allows.
Tonight was one such night. Ailyn Pérez hit greatness and offered her public a performance such immediacy, humanity and generosity that nobody could fail to be moved. She negotiated the fireworks of the first act with ease offering a performance that totally charted the course of falling in love over the space of 35 minutes. The voice sounded completely healthy, sheer ease throughout the range and the coloratura fluently negotiated. In act 2 Violetta’s pain and dilemmas came to the form and the voice filled out beautifully on streams of golden tone with an effortless legato. ‘Dite alla giovane’ was devastating, the sound of a woman who hoped to give another the chance of love that she knew would not last. The gambling scene and final act were numbing to watch and achieved not just through her outstanding physical acting but also in the way that she was able to pull the tone back to almost nothing yet the voice still carried. She was heartbreaking, yet at no point was vocal quality compromised and her attention to text was exquisite. Pérez is a total Violetta and this is a great assumption of the role.
Simon Keenlyside was a revelation as Germont père. The sense of line was certainly there and he knew how to negotiate his instrument to ensure that it fully met the requirements of the music. Dramatically he acted the role of the father who had only the interests of his children in mind to perfection. Stephen Costello sang with open and vibrant tone and gave a stylish performance. He’s a very promising talent and incredibly young and I look forward to seeing him develop further.
I very much enjoyed Dan Ettinger’s conducting. He conducted with a great sense of forward propulsion and swing that worked extremely well. I thought that he paced the work to perfection although I imagine others might have found the tempi a bit on the swift side. I found it very much a lyrical reading that fused rhythm and melody extremely well. The orchestra was on decent form as was the chorus. The supporting cast was acceptable.
Richard Eyre’s staging has been around for two decades now and it does the job efficiently enough. Sometimes that’s all one needs, especially with performances of this calibre.
Regrettably, the Royal Opera has not managed to book Miss Pérez to return next season but I am looking forward to seeing her Norina at the Liceu next June. We have been exceptionally lucky in London to have seen her Manon, Liù and now Violetta all in the space of a few months. She is a truly outstanding singing-actress and I look forward to following her career further.