La Traviata Is The Cathartic Opera You're Looking For: Review

La Traviata at Royal Opera House ★★★★★

Franco Milazzo
By Franco Milazzo Last edited 101 months ago

Last Updated 26 January 2016

La Traviata Is The Cathartic Opera You're Looking For: Review La Traviata at Royal Opera House 5
Venera Gimadieva as Violetta Valery © ROH. Photo: Tristram Kenton

In these grief-soaked times, what better way to get it all out than seeing La Traviata? Although “tragic opera” could arguably be a tautology, Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece doesn’t so much tug at the heartstrings as pull them out and use them as a skipping rope.

This tale of woe focuses on Violetta, a socialite whore and eponymous “fallen woman” who has two things she never asked for: a terminal case of TB and a paramour who suddenly enters her life during a party. She reaches for this last chance at love but fate has other ideas.

The Royal Opera House’s latest revival of Richard Eyre’s version sees three different casts used during its run. The initial trio of Venera Gimadieva (Violetta), Samuel Sakker (Alfredo) and Luca Salsi (Germont) all pass muster on a difficult opening night: the original Alfredo Saimir Pirgu came down with a throat infection and was replaced on the day by the Australian tenor.

Sakker, unsurprisingly, takes a little while to find his feet but absolutely nails his character’s pathos in the final act. In contrast, Salsi is a tour de force from soup to nuts, his acting perfectly complementing his character’s emotional arc.

Russian soprano Gimadieva makes for a subtle Violetta whose impact is only truly felt from the second act onwards; her excoriating two-hander with Salsi is a no-holds-barred tearjerker which will stay long in the memory.

Eyre’s production is a considerate and powerful piece. The set design is an expressive beast which ranges from the sumptuous opening party scenes to the denouement’s spartan mise en scène. Direction is fluid and punchy, especially towards the end; conversely the lighting makes a major impact on the first scene but adds comparatively little after. Down in the pit, Yves Abel conducts Verdi’s gorgeous music with verve and aplomb.

While TB may largely have died out around the time your grandparents were enjoying some “black-and-white TV and chill”, those who have been touched in recent days by the passing of Lemmy, Alan Rickman or David Bowie will see parallels here. Like Violetta, all three icons died from a incurable terminal illness yet did not go out quietly, working on their passions until soon before their deaths. And, like Germont and Alfredo, many of us are left behind with a keen sense of loss and wondering what could have been.

La Traviata continues at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, until 19 March. Tickets £9-£200. Londonist attended on a complimentary press ticket.