Ushered into the grand Victorian splendour of the “Cello’s room” of the Castlereagh Boutique Hotel, we were greeted with Champagne, glistening chandeliers and sumptuously set dinner tables. After a mushroom cappuccino liqueur and bloody Mary chaser, we realised this was not going to be an ordinary concert experience. We were correct. The before dinner drinks were presented as if we were at Violetta’s ball and the exquisite meal served during the interval fitted in nicely with Flora’s party. The action took place amongst the tables and it is hard to imagine an audience being more intimately involved.
The opera was sung in Italian with English introductions before each scene. Although there were no surtitles to translate the Italian, it was very clear what was going on. Italian is conducive to good vocal placement. The high ceilings in the room also produced an excellent acoustic for the voice. The performance was accompanied on a grand piano by the musical director Zsuzsa Giczy. Giczy’s rendering was always sympathetic, following the rubato of the singers. Her tone was warm and and never obtrusive. I especially enjoyed her sensitive performance of the prelude to the last scene.
There are numbers in this opera that are commonly cut, like the tenor’s fiendish cabaletta “O mio rimorso”. It was cut here too, but there were other cuts made. Most the recitatives were dropped all together, obviated by the narration, and in many of the arias and choruses, only one verse was presented which meant a zippy progress through the action; probably not a bad thing if you have to fit a full meal into the evening as well. There were only 5 singers, so choruses were rescored accordingly. On the whole these changes worked well and were consistent with the notion of “Opera Bites”.
On to the singing. The shining star (as it should be) was definitely Violetta, beautifully sung by Rae Levien. Levien’s voice was luscious, alive and shimmering, always right on the pitch and filled with the joy and anguish that the part requires. Especially thrilling was her “È strano!” and “Sempre libera” at the end of act one where she is battling in her mind whether freedom or the new found love for Alfredo should rule her life. Her words say one thing but the music says something else all together. This is wonderful Verdi drama. Near at the end of the opera, her interpretation of the desperate “Gran Dio! morir sì giovine” (O God, to die so young) was heart rending and musically sensuous.
Keara Donohoe was impressive too. Her performance was very musical, her voice shone and her acting was convincing, both as Violetta’s exuberant friend Flora and the modest faithful maid.
Alfredo (Peter-John Layton) was at his best in the scene at Flora’s party where he publicly humiliates Violetta. Layton’s tight vibrato adds intensity to the performance especially when his voice is at its warmest.
Rik Dawson sang Germont with consistently warm tone and good vocal placement, and his portrayal of the character was appropriately dignified.
Murray Dahm had only minor parts to sing, the Baron and the doctor, both of which he did well, and he was a wonderful narrator. The introductions were expertly done with a mixture of interesting historical source readings, and expert and entertaining plot summaries. He presented with a clear and convincing voice and persona. Although the program did not acknowledge this, Dahm is also the driving force behind this company I suspect, as company manager, producer, director, stage manager, program writer etc etc. Another trouper!
We had a delightful evening with wonderful music, fine wine, mouth watering food (beef Wellington or grilled salmon and panna cotta or chocolate mousse) and good company. Who could ask for more?
Opera Bites: Verdi’s La Traviata: 11 March 2016