La Traviata at the Royal Opera House
La Traviata (the fallen woman) is one of Verdi’s most popular operas. It is based on a novel by Alexandre Dumas and its world premiere was at La Fenice in Venice in 1853. As with everything to do with opera there was a dispute with the local authority who insisted that a contemporary setting was inappropriate and the production had to be circa 1700. It was not until 1880 that a more contemporary production was staged.
Every opera house wants to invest in a production that has great longevity. The Royal Opera House production of La Traviata was directed by Richard Eyre who made his ROH debut in this relevant production in 1994. The Act 2 Scene 2 party/ gambling scene is one of the iconic production pieces which still receives applause even to this day.
There have been a number of films particularly the Zeffirelli film with Stratas and Domingo and a huge number of recordings. Some of the greatest sopranos have sung the role of Violetta and nothing seems to have changed with this performance.
In 2015 the 32-year-old Russian soprano Ekaterina Bakanova was in the middle of a Boheme rehearsal at the Royal Opera House when she was told that the Violetta for that night had been taken ill. She was asked whether she could step in and sing the role, given five hours’ notice. She agreed and performed to great acclaim from the audience and critics alike.
Now she is back in her own right in an outstandingly focused interpretation of the role. It was an extortionary performance and one of those where you were glad to be able to say “I was there”. Her performance was reminiscent of some of the great Violettas of the past. She has an incredibly flexible vocal range with great vocal attack and shading when required. She is young and hugely expressive and always looked and acted the part particularly in her act 3 tearful final aria.
Her Alfredo is the Brazilian tenor Atalla Ayan who became a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Young Artists programme in 2010. He has all the notes together with a clear Italianate tenor sound without on occasions the real vocal heft of some of the greatest Alfredos’.
His father was the Italian baritone Nicola Alaimo who had a deep substantial and refined baritone voice. He cut an authoritative figure on stage and sang with an attractive sound quality and weight.
The rest of the parts were all sung well and it was great to see 3 participants of the Young Artist Programme in the performance.
The conductor was Maurizio Benini. He was a master of this performance caressing the music and pacing the arias with constant mood changes to reflect the action and he did this to great effect. He had a wonderful chorus to support the evening as well.
There was a deserved standing ovation at the end where Bakanova’s performance was properly recognised by the audience, orchestra and fellow artists alike. A wonderful evening.