REVIEW: La traviata – Scottish Opera, Town House, Hamilton

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Violetta, a famed escort, leads a seemingly charmed existence amidst the cream of Paris society. But, in fragile health, she is tired of living an empty life and when Alfredo introduces himself she finally sees a way out of her tawdry lifestyle. Deeply in love, all is blissful contentment until some home truths convince her to leave Alfredo and head back into the arms of another…

La traviata/The Fallen Woman

Opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Alexandre Dumas’ play La dame aux camelias

Sung in English translation by Edmund Tracey

Performed in an orchestral reduction by Tony Burke

This new production of Verdi’s beloved tearjerker is part of Scottish Opera’s 50th anniversary celebrations, an unprecedented 50 date tour across the country fulfilling the company’s promise to bring Opera to the whole of Scotland no matter how remote. This production re-imagined in 1950’s Paris aims to get to the heart of the story by concentrating on the turbulent relationship at its core.

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Robyn Lyn Evans as Alfredo Germont and Elin Pritchard as Violetta Valery

Though enjoyable in parts and laudable in its aim to make opera accessible to the masses, this production is not without its flaws. The decision to sing it in English made it no more accessible than it would have been sung its original Italian with surtitles: Elin Pritchard in the principle role of Violetta is a fine singer however the nature of her and indeed any other sopranos voice, means that at the highest end of its range every word is changed to mere sound, losing all meaning, only the male singers (and not all of them) were, in any way understandable, though praise must go to Robyn Lyn Evans as Alfredo who possessed the most impressive vocals of the evening and the most convincing acting skills.

The truncation of the storyline also meant that anyone not already familiar with the tale, would be lost. That said, the programme is of  impressive quality providing comprehensive and essential notes on the production, and is an entertaining, informative and well-written read. However the length of the notes meant that it was impossible to read them in the minutes between taking your seat and the production beginning (the interval chatter from many saying that they wished they had time to read the notes beforehand as they might have had a chance of understanding what was going on).

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The 18 piece chamber orchestra sounded tight and strong throughout, however the same could not be said for the singers; in this 700+ seat venue the sound was at times lost and some of the blame I fear must be laid at the door of the “shoebox” set. Though clever in its design and pleasing to the eye, it seemed to smother much of the sound. There were also some uncomfortably lengthy scene changes which left the audience somewhat restless.

The costume design also failed to truly reflect the setting; the sharper suits of the men were era-appropriate as were the “New Look” designs of Kathryn McAdam’s characters Flora and Annina, though the top hats and capes of the men in evening dress were more of a nod to the Opera’s origins and Violetta’s long-flowing Pre-Raphaelite curled locks and 80’s style dresses were an avoidable annoyance given the size of the wig and wardrobe departments of this national company.

The intention of Scottish Opera to “bring the widest possible range of opera, performed to the highest possible standards, to the maximum audience throughout Scotland” is laudable however I fear a little more thought and care needs to go into matching the staging to these many and varied venues in order to maximise the quality of experience.

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