July 14, 2014

La traviata

On it's final leg of a trans-Tasman collaboration between New Zealand Opera, Opera Queensland and the State Opera of South Australia, Verdi's La traviata has made it's way to Wellington after spending May in Adelaide, and June in Auckland.

As the curtain rose for Act I, I heard gasps in the audience around me for the beauty of the stage setting foreshadowing what was to come.  A large fallen chandelier next to a waifish Violetta crumpled on the ground.  The chandelier rises looking not unlike a jellyfish as it does so, while the fallen Violetta also rises to look through the windows that make up the walls of the cutaway cuboid room housing her past self in the final stages of preparing for the party at which she will meet her soon to be love, Alfredo.  A quick spin of the room brings the party into the presence, and the story to a start.

Australians Lorina Gore and Samuel Sakker are our leads, Violetta and Alfredo, who come together at the end of Act I after a good long drinking song and a bit of reluctance from Violetta.  During the party scene I found my eye drawn away from the leads by the movements one of the chorus women, despite the chorus being all in black and Violetta in a smartly contrasting but almost harsh red dress.  At the end of the party, I wasn't yet convinced of our leads, but the goofy grin Sakker gave as he exited the stage after Alfredo received the blessing to visit Violetta the next day, began to warm him to me.

The little chemistry I felt between Violetta and Alfredo in the first act while he was trying to convince her that to be loved wasn't a bad thing, was more than I was going to get for most of Act II.  The cube that previously was the centre of the party, was now a countryside sun room of sorts, with vases of flowers seeming placed haphazardly over the floor, around a stunning fainting couch I want for my own.  The six metre high backdrop now featured a camellia motif, in a continuous length of 30 metres, which together with the lighting accentuated the moods of the scene as they passed. 

It is during Act II we meet the third lead, Alfredo's father Giorgio Germont, played by Scottish-born David Stephenson.  Stephenson, no stranger to Verdi, La traviata or indeed the role of Germont, showed his ease on the stage compared to the younger two leads, and seemed to provoke Gore to inject some emotion in to the acting part of her role.  After Germont convinces Violetta to leave Alfredo for the sake of Alfredo's sister and her upcoming nuptials, everyone runs separately back to the city for another party, this time with gossip, gypsies, gambling and some humiliation thrown in for good measure.  With emotions running high, this party is easily the most exciting part of the opera.

Act III, after the excitement of the party, was almost a bore for me. I spent almost as much time paying attention to the tricks and treats the choreographed lighting played on the glass box (or as it almost seemed in this Act, the 'prism prison') as I did to the dying Violetta, her maid and the doctor.  Alfredo returned just as it seemed to be too late, and the audience got to play "will she wont she" as Violetta's strength ebbed and bounced back almost in the same breath.
Gore is more than vocally capable to carry the huge role of Violetta, but I felt the rest of the performance that I saw for the most part was a bit wooden.  Sakker brought a bit of life and a lot of facial expression to Alfredo, nailing the role all round.  The orchestra for the most part were spot on, the same of the chorus. Christina Smith and Matt Scott as set and costume design and lighting design respectively helped make this a collection possibly the most stunning stage settings I've seen at St James.  Much respect to them and the rest behind the scenes who get to polish the jewel box and untangle the beads every day.

La traviata has three more shows in Wellington at St James, Tuesday 15th, Thursday 17th, and Saturday 19th July.  Tickets available from Ticketek.


  1. Hi there!

    Great review - really looking forward to going now! Do you remember how long the show ran for?