The warnings are barely perceptible from the early orchestral notes and the lively glittering ball scene in Act 1, but like a relentless storm, tragedy unravels with ever-growing pace as the love story progresses. Compared to many of Verdi’s operas where the tragedy is intense – all wild and weeping strings and crashing majestic overtures – “La Traviata” is as fragile as crystal.
There are echoes of “La bohème” and “Manon” in the storyline but the opera has enormous depth, way beyond the light and frothy party and happy gathering with its upbeat duets and choruses.
This version starred Erika Miklósa as Violetta and Italian guest performer Giuseppe Filianoti as a fiercely passionate Alfredo. “La Traviata” is Verdi’s beauty queen of an opera: elegant, graceful and delicate much like Violetta herself.
There are some opera singers who can command an entire auditorium before they even sing a note; Miklósa is one of these. Never underestimate the power of stage presence as the 3000 audience was already spellbound before she began to sing.
She moved with an ethereal loveliness, like a ballerina floating on air, all graceful long limbs as though she had wandered out of “Swan Lake” and onto the opera stage. Her Violetta was at once frivolous and fragile, melodramatic and achingly beautiful. And that was all before she unleashed her sky-splitting soprano voice; all trembling notes that stretched out through the night sky.
Miklósa was equally matched by Filianoti, and the dynamic chemistry between the two from the early openings was tangible as they sang the famous “brindisi” full of joy accompanied by the chorus.
The opera demands great emotions and vocal range from its leads or it can fall pancake flat, still beautiful but lacking the substance that transforms the swishing socialiate Violetta and the passionate Alfredo into believable and heartbreaking lovers.
Zoltán Kelemen as Giorgio Germont provided the backbone to the opera, his dark baritone voice powerful yet tender in his duets with Violetta. He is the earth to Alfredo’s fire and Violetta’s air. When the production returns to the Opera House stage in the autumn season, it should be just as electrifying.
Violetta’s role is hugely demanding vocally, deceptively so; this is the opera that propelled the great Angela Gheorghiu to stardom in the Royal Opera House back in 1994.
It is a lot to live up to when this role has been performed to near perfection by Gheorghiu, who is arguably the most glamorous and revered soprano of our time, but Miklósa gave out a performance to rival her greatness.
In this outdoor setting of Margitsziget, Miklósa could truly offer her song to the stars and the heavens like Tosca does in her famous aria, “Vissi d’arte”. There was no opera house roof to imprison those notes that are so pure and lovely they will float into infinity, disappearing into the velvety warmth of the night sky.
In the June heat that was already splintered with storms, the sweetness of those notes could calm the most savage tempest, as could Filianoti’s pure and perfect tenor voice rising in waves above the birdsong. The storm was indeed approaching, sending warning flashes of light across the darkening sky, a perfect backdrop to the unfolding tragedy.
The set design by Gergely Z. Zöldy was opulent enough for Violetta’s elegant ballroom and easily transformed from one scene to the next, lighting states bathing the stage in emotive colours. One big restriction on the outdoor stages is the lack of scene changes but an opera such as “La Traviata” can take this without losing its magic, whereas many other productions risk appearing static without the constant flux of locations.
Ferenc Anger directed “La Traviata” to perfection; if some of his productions are more than a little dark and brooding, this was flawless with just the right amount of Anger’s trademark stamp of darkness.
This was extremely effective in the masked ball sequences where Violetta is humiliated by Alfredo and lies broken on the stage, the figures surrounding her appearing distorted and nightmarish through their disguises as though an extension of her failing health and mental state.
The acting was flawless throughout, full of pain and passion and eventual anguish from both leads, and rarely was a stage death so beautiful, so full of balletic elegance. Miklósa even managed to make death lovely, draped across her sofa reaching for that last fragment of hope as she tried to cling on to her life and dreams.
And before she melted into eternal sleep with a softness in much the same vein as Mimi in “La bohème”, she whispered the thoughts of many watching in this hushed crowd: “Gran Dio! … morir sì giovane/Great God! … to die so young.”
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