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Where Violetta met Peter Grimes

The first criticism I heard of English National Opera’s La Traviata was voiced about a fortnight before it opened. ‘They must be off their heads,’ said a music biz know-all. ‘They’re £2.5 million in the red and they’re giving up all the bar takings on the most popular opera in the rep.’

What my mate meant was that Peter Konwitschny’s production – the UK debut by this esteemed German director – condensed the opera into a single act, lasting just under two hours. That meant losing about a third of the music, much of it da capo, and retelling the story as a drama in four crisp, bare-staged scenes. Using nothing but red curtains and a single chair must have made up for loss of bar takings, I guess.

As story-telling, it worked better than many a long evening in a velvet-seated opera house. Violetta was a tart with a golden heart, Alfredo a young geek and his father a pontificating hypocrite of the most monstrous sort. The singing was two full leagues above the modest seat prices.

corine winters

Corinne Winters, who learned the role just recently in Hong Kong, matched serenity and physical beauty with an effortless top and a spinal tap into our darkest feelings. Ben Johnson was a tad young and slight as Alfredo, but Anthony Michaels-Moore sang the role of his life as the egotistical father, brutal and overpowering and yet still appealing to an empathetic node in audience hearts and minds. Michael Hofstetter conducted, another excellent debut.

traviata eno


The masterstroke of Konwitschny’s production was to have Violetta, on stage, die alone – as we all must – while the other principals sang from an aisle in the middle of the audience. This was an opera of us and them, the majority and the few, the house and the outcasts. It was as claustrophobic as Britten’s Peter Grimes and every bit as guarded and ambiguous in its judgement of character.

This was not so much an update of Traviata as a search for Brechtian motives. It unearthed quite a few. The house was packed to the rafters. The bars stayed empty.


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  1. Wish I could go. I remember the final performance of Traviata at the MET last year. The chorus was so menacing Alfredo was scared, and I, too, became so uncomfortable. This looks like a Traviata I could love.

  2. Mignon Thomas (@MignonSnooker) says:

    Right, Regietheater, again. I really wonder about these Ladies & Gents who are our darling omnipresent directors: when (if ever) will they grow out of this juvenile need to shock the world? How dark, dirty, cruel, violent and hyper-sexed must an opera performance get? As a Verdian character (actually, almost any Verdian character) would put it, “io tremo”! lol

    Can’t fight the moment’s momentum: go ahead, Ladies & Gents and if Verdi’s music is unlucky enough to get in the way of your revolutionary visions, do get rid of it, by all means!

  3. Sounds fantastic! Bravo ENO!

  4. Basia Jaworski says:

    ” losing about a third of the music”?
    No comment…

  5. Praise where it’s due; this sounds like strong theatre – which is what opera is, in the last analysis. Some of the comments above remind me of a gloriously self-parodic Facebook group called “Against Modern Opera Productions”. Update Don Carlos to the 1920s and steam blasts from their ears: “a travesty!” Yet they all agreed that a production of Mozart’s Mitridate, in which all the performers wore 18th century costume (ie, updated by some 1800 years friom the period in which the opera is actually set), was a model of its kind.

    Whenever one hears people bellyaching about “Regietheater” or “Eurotrash”, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that what they’re really saying is “stop trying to make me think – I just want to look at pretty costumes and wallow in nice tunes”. Opera should be living, kicking theatre – not a gourmet museum piece for self-appointed connoisseurs.

  6. Bo van der Meulen says:

    When you start with a translated work, (La traviata in English) you start afresh anyway , so why not create a thought provoking production which may or not be to everybody’s taste, but does show deep insight in the essence of the work? I am not always the biggest fan of new “regie theatre” for the sake of it, but when done intelligently and with integrity, I am all for it. Opera in 2013 is not about restoring original scores or give “authentic “performances.
    Konwitschny’s Traviata, in English, was not (just) Verdi’s Traviata, which was not (just) Dumas’ Dame aux Camellia either. Let’s give art room to evolve. This interpretation of LaTraviata is no worse or better than Zeferelli’s severely cut Traviata movie version, where the singers in “authentic” costumes and sets, lip sing to Verdi’s music…
    I happen to love both ways of producing opera, but not always and not all the time. I love to know though there is room for both, always all the time..

  7. Ken Anderson says:

    Robin Ticciati’s career and reputation will undoubtedly survive that quite unnecessary snide remark.

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