Wednesday, 6 February 2013

La Traviata - English National Opera's latest venture (with curtains)


I always find that new dramatisations of old favourites will have supporters and naysayers.  In my time, I have been amazed, enchanted, shocked, delighted and sometimes disappointed in new productions of plays, films, and in this case, operas.  I was so lucky to have lived in London in the 1980's and to have had the friendship of an opera lover who introduced me to the medium.  Up until then I loved the arias,  had seen Joseph Losey's film of Don Giovanni, and one Puccini opera (The Girl of the Golden West ) but little else.  The first production he pursuaded me to attend was a (now defunct) Opera Factory production which featured the god Eros, roller-skating through a forest of green helium balloons - and I was hooked. Follow that with all three of Mozart's Da Ponte operas by the same opera company - Cosi Fan Tutte, The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovani and that was it, a glutton who couldn't wait for the next one.  So avante guarde is not new to me, nor disliked.

But now living some way off, and having to do 2 hours plus on the train to get up to the city, I want to be entertained when I get there.  So it was with anticipation that I went up to see the new production of La Traviata - the story of the tart with the heart, who leaves her life of endless parties and affairs with rich men to live in love and contentment with the man who really loves her.

Look out for the gorgeous Corrine Winters as Violetta, a small waisted, big voiced American soprano.  She'll go far. There wasn't a bad voice in the other major parts either, so it should have been a delight, right?

The set comprised one kitchen chair and several banks of thin red curtains.  When the curtains opened after the overture, we saw a chair, and a set of curtains.  Puzzling perhaps, but let's get on with the action.  People came, people went, they fought their way through the curtains singing, flouncing, playing cards, and certainly doing the best they could under the circumstances.  But when those around you in the audience start to titter at members of the cast trying to find the openings in the damned curtains, you loose the plot.  I found myself looking for the next error, rather than concentrating on the voices - and it should not have been like that.  Finally, the death scene.  As there was no furniture, there was no bed for Violetta to die on, and she was forced therefore to die a gunslinger's death.  You know, the one where he's shot but won't lie down?  I really felt for her, and I also felt that it was so unnecessary, given that I had seen so many brilliant productions where strange things happened (the production of Don Giovanni where I couldn't believe they weren't actually having sex, the Cosi Fan Tutti where Despina got tangled in a deck chair, and kept singing, delightfully, all through the aria) - oh do shut up, I am in danger of boring the readership!
Suffice it to say that the audience cheered the singers and booed the director.  All I can say is
Too Many Curtains!