La Traviata – Sydney Opera House – Friday 3rd February 2017.
This re-run of the very fine Moshinsky production of La Traviata included Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho as Violetta. The company's web site quotes The Economist as saying she is the world's “most acclaimed soprano”, a ridiculous thing to write and even more ridiculous to quote. But it did make me rather look forward more than usual to a Sydney Opera opening of this over-exposed warhorse of the Sydney operatic stage.
Like the role of Norma, Violetta requires every quality a soprano can harbour. And Ms Jaho showed in the first act that she has the requisite coloratura and bravura … but better was to come. Her nuanced dramatic vocals in Acts 2 and 3 were little short of phenomenal and she received big ovations. She is a fine actress, taking some small but appropriate liberties with the tempi, clearly evoking every sentiment of the intense drama. Her voice has a slightly plum-in-mouth quality at times and at the start she almost sounded like a full-voiced mezzo-soprano. She had slightly imperfect pitch on some high notes to my ear, a small criticism. Yet she handled an exciting high E flat to end her Act I cadenza and the ‘fire-in-the-fowl-house’ tessitura leading up to it. And later duets Dite alla giovine and Parigi o Cara were splendid as especially was her Addio del passato and its weakening pulse. Not since Sutherland's days have we heard such subtle and sublime strains in this great role.
Her paramour Alfredo was played by competent Korean tenor Ho-Yoon Chung. He looked the part and took most of the difficult options. A pleasant if slightly ‘dry’ voice he was singing with two world class artists, including Jose Carbo who sang and acted superbly as Papa Germont. His Di Provenza was superlative, followed by the much maligned but to my taste brilliant cabaletta. We are fortunate that Mr Carbo has chosen to stay in Australia. With his talents he could sing anywhere.
The conducting of Maestro Palumbo was the exact opposite of Simone Young from when this production was new about 15 years ago. He kept all the orchestral parts low-key, low contrast and without the pauses others might use. So it was very much a symphonic continuo which did not draw attention to the pit. During some of the soprano solos in acts 2 and 3 maestro seemed to make major allowances for the singer, each of which paid off artistically. Ms Young insisted on the entire score as written by Verdi, including two verses of Ah fors'e lui.
The other solo parts were all well sung and the chorus was highly schooled vocally and dramatically.
It is hard to absolve the company for their ludicrous decision to perform the Polish opera King Roger in their mainstream season. This is a connoisseur’s piece which has had numerous single outings in the last 90 years but has never gained traction with regular audiences. I found the story to be superficial and the poetry banal and empty. Melodies are hard to find and repetitive rhythmic beats are somehow reminiscent of Satyagraha by Glass. Neither is my cup of operatic Earl Grey … but each to their own! As for the brilliant Covent Garden co-production, wasted in my view on King Roger … the opening lighting of a massive sculpted head is simply brilliant. I would use the set for an opera on Freud and psychoanalysis. Any takers?
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..