Verdi's La Traviata fine theatre
With New Zealand Opera now without a prime sponsor, life is financially perilous, so it is no surprise that the operas for this year are box office gold. But it is also a reminder that both were the operas of 2007, so memories are still vivid. And that year's La Traviata - from Moscow via Canada - was a scintillating production with an unforgettable Violetta, the Russian soprano Elvira Fatykova.
But this year's co-production with South Australia and Queensland is, on its own terms, a brilliant success. The sets, built around a cross section box, with a range of chandeliers setting the dramatic mood for each act and some wonderfully moody lighting, allow the drama to flow. And although the first act party is a little stilted, with the guests milling around somewhat, the second act masked ball is superbly done, with the choreography of the palm readers and the matadors completely successful.
Act 3 racks up the tension on a set where the chandeliers have collapsed to the floor, reflecting Violetta's straitened circumstances. The costumes are unobtrusively modernish; they do not in any way intrude on the production.
The cast, led by Australian Lorina Gore, are a well balanced lot. Although Gore is a hint harsh in the coloratura of the first act, she sings and acts brilliantly thereafter, and her relationship with Alfredo, improbable as it might be, develops superbly to a riveting death scene. As Alfredo, Samuel Sacker reveals a lovely free tenor, and as his father Giorgio Germont, David Stephenson is very convincing. So are all the minor roles, allowing the famous story, taken from Dumas' The Lady of the Camellias, to proceed without unnecessary directorial intrusion.
The large chorus is, as we have come to expect, a marvel of precision and involvement, and the orchestra, under Joel-Hornak does well. But not quite as well as I have heard in the pit for earlier productions - being a hint too loud for the singers on occasions and with slightly wayward woodwind at times - but the brass are superbly coherent.
This is, on balance, fine theatre, and if the fevered audience reaction is any indicator, it will enjoy a successful season.
AT A GLANCE
New Zealand Opera - Verdi: La Traviata.
Soloists, Orchestra Wellington conducted by Emmanuel Joel-Hornak, Chapman Tripp Chorus. Director: Kate Cherry. Sets and Costumes: Christina Smith. Lighting: Matt Scott.
St. James Theatre, Wellington, July 11-19
The Dominion Post